Wandering around today and nearly missing a moment with my grand daughter

Bird Droppings June 16, 2011
Wandering about today and nearly missed a moment
with my grand daughter

“Until you have a son of your own you will never know the joy, the love beyond feeling that resonates in the heart of a father as he looks upon his son. You will never know the sense of honor that makes a man want to be more than he is and to pass something good and hopeful into the hands of his son, and you will never know the heartbreak of the fathers who are haunted by the personal demons that keep them from being the men they want their sons to be.” Kent Nerburn

In my running around today I got home just in time to hold my grand daughter before her morning nap. As I started this morning with fathers day coming up I am borrowing from one of my favorite authors who wrote a book to his son and this passage is from that book. I am sure had Kent been blessed with daughters his words would be different and one day perhaps he will be graced with a grand daughter which even makes this passage more significant. As a grand parent the joy is magnified and intensified and every single smile or tiny hand reaching carries love and emotions that are hard to express.
My youngest son heads out early every day often before his daughter is awake. I had a nice drive this morning into town and errands for the house and for school. I felt like I drove a million miles by the time I got home. It has been some time since I thought about this topic and thought I would share again.

“To admit you were wrong is to declare you are wiser now than before.” Unknown author

When I saw this I had many flashbacks to arguments over the years, now perhaps I would call a few debates but back in the day they were arguments. One of my favorite was about copperhead eggs. But that was many years ago, copperheads do not lay eggs they are developed inside the female and are born fully developed and poisonous. Funny thing was many years back a UGA vet student could not be persuaded otherwise. I knew that information from about second grade, anyhow in life admitting you were wrong is probably one of the hardest and most difficult tasks we could ever have, even when only a silly argument or discussion on copperhead eggs or who was best baseball player. Letting go of ego is a difficult task.

“An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.” Karl G. Jung

If I were to call my shelf a certain kind of psychologist it would be Jungian. I do think Jung may have over did it a bit in his idea but ego is such a hard task master and so often in life we all sooner or later fall victim.

“If someone is blessed as I am is not willing to clean out the barn, who will?” H. Ross Perot

Looking back on my own life and I was never really a Perot fan but I happen to like the thought he addresses here. In life who but ourselves is there to clean out the barn. I found a sign with the word EGOS in bold lettering on it and then the red circle for NO across it. I placed several up around the school the only one that survived was on my door, still haven’t figured that one out. All the others were down very quickly, people in general do not want to be wrong or questioned.

“If you think about yourself then you’ve lost sight of the ball.” Mike Willesee

Ever wonder how a pro basketball team either succeeds or collapses. All in all most pro teams are very close in ability, but it is the dealing with egos that makes or breaks a team. A coach has to be able de-egoize a team that is the true sign of a great coach.

“A particular shot or way of moving the ball can be a player’s personal signature, but efficiency of performance is what wins the game for the team. “ Pat Riley

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

“Nothing will work unless you do. “ John Wooden

Many of you never may have heard of John Wooden, perhaps the greatest College basketball coach of all time. I believe he won more NCAA championships somewhere about ten, than any other coach and more in a row. Wooden lived a simple philosophy of life.

“You cannot attain and maintain physical condition unless you are morally and mentally conditioned. And it is impossible to be in moral condition unless you are spiritually conditioned. I always told my players that our team condition depended on two factors — how hard they worked on the floor during practice and how well they behaved between practices.” John Wooden

Recently a few months ago I found an article in the sports page, by former Wooden player who did not get to play very much. This former player was interviewing Bill Walton, a former NBA star, a now sports broadcaster and former great of UCLA’s glory days under Wooden. The player who did not play much had the same respect and love for Wooden as did Walton, and both carried Woodenisms in there wallets still, twenty plus years after college. Example is the key to Coach Wooden’s philosophy of life. Live the life as well as play hard. EGO had no place on a Wooden team and if an ego cropped up you probably will be sitting on the bench or playing at another university. Wooden was successful because he did not skirt the edges so many in the paper schools have done. He won through practice, his players were glad to get off the team, his practices were so hard. Behavior between practices was as important to Coach Wooden as was your play.
Imagine a world where the aura was gone from pro-sports and players played because they wanted too, not for millions of dollars. Imagine where newspapers would have to print about the team getting all A’s in the NCAA rather then team members are arrested for shop lifting and sexual harassment. EGOS can destroy not only an individual but a team and a society.

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” John Wooden

I will close with that last statement from John Wooden, in life and not just sports character will keep you there, a good thought to remember and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.


Bird Droppings June 15, 2011

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” William Faulkner

When I first read this earlier it hit me hard, so often in life we want to accomplish that great task all in one quick movement and all at one time. It has been a few years since I first read a favorite authors email blog and he had been working on an idea and book for years, based on Chief Joseph and he mentioned patience in relation to another Native American work in progress. As he wrote in that blog in the Dakotas nearly fifty years ago sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, promised to honor the memory of Crazy horse by carving out a mountain in his likeness. To this day rock by rock he and his family since his death in 1974 have kept that promise, the face was dedicated n 1998.

“Our patience will achieve more than our force.” Edmund Burke

So often as I teach each day it is not a great lesson that succeeds but simply patience. Being able to deal with difficulties of the day and move into the next without dwelling to long on a single issue, moving small stones one at a time, in our effort to move or carve a mountain as Faulkner points out above.

“The two powers which in my opinion constitute a wise man are those of bearing and forbearing.” Epictetus

“Patience means self-suffering.” Mahatma Gandhi

“That virtue of the mind which is called Patience is so great a gift…” St. Augustine of Hippo

I walked out earlier taking the dog for his morning constitutional before me a clear sky filled with stars and perhaps the most gorgeous full moon in many months. Our home sits slightly off the road with a large back yard going into about four hundred acres of wilderness, actually very private. But it was stars that caught my eye in the brilliance of the moon and each morning they are there when clouds allow lately. I was discussing with my principal and superintendent a few days back the concept of patience. I recall back seven or eight years ago when a former student’s mother had been killed in a car wreck, we were talking how students will come to certain teachers. This former student I had ten years ago yet everyday she would stop by when she was in school before graduation to check on me, consistency came out, students will flock to consistency when meted out with patience.

“Let this be understood, then, at starting; that the patient conquest of difficulties which rise in the regular and legitimate channels of business and enterprise is not only essential in securing the success which you seek but it is essential to that preparation of your mind, requisite for the enjoyment of your successes, and for retaining them when gained. So, day by day, and week by week; so month after month, and year after year, work on, and in that process gain strength and symmetry, and nerve and knowledge, that when success, patiently and bravely worked for, shall come, it may find you prepared to receive it and keep it,” Josiah Gilbert Holland

“Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.” Barbara Johnson

I typed in Patience’s as a search and the first few were all lyrics for a Guns and Roses song the words are not really applicable or I would use them but the song, there is a whistling start to the song and I am sitting here writing about patience and humming the start to the song. This is one of those songs you can not get out of your head.

“(whistle) …little patience, mm yeah, mm yeah, I need a little patience, yeah – just a little patience, yeah – some more patience, – yeah – need some patience, yeah, could use some patience, yeah, gotta have some patience, yeah, all it takes is patience, just a little patience, is all you need” Axl Rose, Guns and Roses 1989

In all honesty the words really don’t quite do it with out the whistling and tune especially with Axl Rose’s whining voice singing. But patience “is all you need”.

“Consider the hour-glass; there is nothing to be accomplished by rattling or shaking; you have to wait patiently until the sand, grain by grain, has run from one funnel into the other.” John Christian Morgensten

Whether this was made by the 16th century artist or more recently a whimsical poet of the 20 century this is a powerful statement. If you have never watched an hour glass at work, it truly is the best example and analogy of patience, one grain at a time falls through no more no less till the entire mass of sand drops.

“If I have made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.” Sir Isaac Newton

“Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.” Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

It does take patience, trying to accomplish any task takes patience. I have talked of world peace more than once and am committed to that ideal but it will take patience. However until that time we must keep all in harms way on our minds and in our hearts.

Listening to John Lennon and reading John Dewey

Bird Droppings June 14, 2011
Listening to John Lennon and reading John Dewey

I ran my errands today including a trip to Barnes and Nobles. I got up and started my day driving and doing errands from yesterday and in the process a lot of thinking and pondering as I say.

“As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all. Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all. A working class hero is something to be. A working class hero is something to be. They hurt you at home and they hit you at school, they hate you if you are clever and they despise a fool. Till you are so crazy you can’t follow the rules. When they tortured and scared you for twenty odd years, they expect you to pick a career, when you can’t really function you are so full of fear.” John Lennon, Working Class Hero

I was looking at Barnes and Nobles for a specific book and accidentally found an acoustic CD of John Lennon’s that caught my attention. Working class hero was the first song and as I listened to the words it was to me about education and family rearing in America literally and lyrically in many cases. I also found the book Qualities of an effective teacher by James Stronge.
I had the opportunity to visit the Foxfire property last week for a bit of research that is actually fun for my dissertation. As always it was well wroth the drive to Mountain City Georgia right on the line with North Carolina. The Foxfire property sits on the side of Black Rock Mountain and is composed of eleven vintage cabins and buildings taken apart by hand and rebuilt on the property. Many were donated and some acquired with grant money, but all were hand labored by high school students as part of their class. Each shingle and log were taken apart at there point of origin and painstakingly rebuilt on the Foxfire property.
As I listened to the participants in the session I attended as a quest teacher and attendee it was interesting to see in several new teachers a spark of enthusiasm and creativity so often missing as teachers fall into that mold so many systems want their teachers to adhere too. Foxfire is not a curriculum but an approach to teaching, it is one of student involvement in the learning process that has its roots in the thinking and writing of John Dewey from 1930 in his book Experience and Education.

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” John Dewey

John Dewey believed and wrote about; in education experience is the teacher. Each moment was an active learning moment and each previous prior to walking into the class was a learning moment. So past experiences were crucial in his approach to teaching and understanding children.

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey

Dewey also taught and wrote about doing and in that doing learning would occur. In today’s world of memorizing for tests often little is learned as relevance becomes a mote point. For Dewey relevance was what education was about and should be.

“We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos” John Dewey

Many teachers have a difficult time with Dewey’s idea of a democratic class room where students have direct input into the learning process. As I read over John Lennon’s words “they hate you if you are clever and they despise a fool”, I think of teachers who do not want someone in their class who knows more or might have a better idea and they surely in today’s world of accountability want anyone who cannot pass the State End of Course test.
Earlier today I went to my Credit Union to get a few dollars, a very few, and got into a discussion with the two tellers. One of the tellers is in nursing school and the other a parent of a fourth grader and sixth grader. We got talking and the discussion was about the State testing and most recently how could a good teacher administer a test knowing over half would fail the test. Georgia’s department of education recently authorized grade level tests knowing many children would fail. The results were first aimed at teachers for not teaching the right material, secondly the state finally said we knew there was a problem and rejected the tests. Sadly many children failed and in some instances school failure rates on specific tests were as high as eighty percent. Would a good teacher have made a difference?
I went from the bank to get a hair cut and again a conversation with my barber about education; she is an elementary school teacher. She went back to college part time after raising her kids and is a second year teacher. We talked about vocational rehab and adults with special needs and we talked about how a good teacher would never give a test knowing fifty percent would fail.
After wandering about I realized maybe we need some changes in out educational system but how and where and what do you change? We need good teachers and a means to find and keep good teachers. We need curriculum that is meaningful and relevant to the children and to their future as citizens of this country. In many educational articles and the trend of a hidden agenda where schools are simply supplying workers and consumers to keep the military industrial complex in business is written about often. Listening to John Lennon I was seeing all of those teachers I have heard say they hate kids and all of those dictatorial teachers who say sit in this chair with your hands folded and do not talk and I think back to a passage by Mary Aswell Doll.

“It is the purpose of curric¬ulum, I argue, to engage the imagination, such that it is possible to think more metaphorically, less literalistically, about one’s world and one’s presuppositions about that world. When stories are told, one sees ideas differently; when images are heard, one hears differently, more introspectively. But, to engage the imagi¬nation, different teaching strategies need to be employed.” Mary Aswell Doll, Like Letters in running Water

In another passage Doll discusses the classroom alive and fluid and ever changing. Many teachers would be beside themselves seeing a room like that. Then I think to discussion yesterday in the Foxfire Class and how this is what education should be about experiences each moment and each second an experience and a teachable moment to borrow that phrase. A dear friend has graduate degree in Experiential Education, which focuses on outdoor teaching methods through wilderness experiences and natural activities. I get nauseated when I think to some scripted programs used in schools where ever word said is from a script and how will any child become creative in that environment. How will any imagination be promoted and maintained. In a recent class the question was asked how we can measure creativity from a performance standpoint. Today as I was discussing what makes a good teacher with people as I went through the day I asked can we measure empathy or intuition or caring for that matter?
So we have a system that needs “fixin” as the mountain man would say. How can we fix it? Number one is finding and training and keeping good teachers. Develop teachers through performance evaluation and professional training. Provide the potential for success rather than a diagram for failure. As I sit pondering and ranting I actually got thinking more about teaching teachers and how would I weed out people who hated children and those who would never make a good teacher. I got thinking to a recent episode of House a doctor show on TV. He had to find three good doctors to work with him and often arbitrarily would simply tell someone to leave or you’re fired. That may not work in a college class room. But I did get a laugh out of it. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Using Calamity as an opening

Bird Droppings June 13, 2011
Using calamity as an opening

“Calamity is the perfect glass wherein we truly see and know ourselves.” William Davenant

I wasn’t sure from where to start today as I have been busy, feeding snakes and animals at the high school, ordering two books for graduate school, spending most of last week at a Foxfire course in the mountains, and taking care of my granddaughter in between. After sitting down and focusing I have had several ideas that I have been pondering and that have been running through my thinking the past few days. As I think back and forward to a possible job change moving is always difficult. We have attachments to people, places, students, and thinking back to moving from one house to another we have attachments to a house.
For me the past few days considering and thinking about my job and possibly moving to another position I have seen in change that often we find new sustenance. I recall back a few years when we last moved into this house it was within hours that our sons had made their new accommodations home. Always we are sorting through the acquired preponderance of material and items that are collected over the years. Matter of fact we still are. I am a notorious pack rat and actually my main negative with even interviewing for this new job was moving out of my current room.
Within each calamity, tragedy, life hurdle and hard coming is light. Dr. James Sutton, Clinical psychologist has done a beautiful forward for my first book of Bird Droppings, The journal of a teacher. It was several years back when we moved that was the first email I opened at our new house. It is funny I am sitting here sorting through my papers working on graduate school and various other undertakings. I was first thinking today’s message would be brief since I have much to do but I wanted to share two songs that have been running through my head for several days.
Country Stars Big and Rich original claim to fame was a song entitled, Save a horse ride a cowboy, not one of my favorites though it helped promote them to national fame and a song on their first album was brought to my attention. The song is simply titled Holy water. I heard this song a now nearly four years ago and was impressed with the harmonies and words. I heard them wrong the first time as we so often do. So Big and Rich’s song and ponder for yourself the lyrics.

“Holy Water”

Somewhere there’s a stolen halo
I use to watch her wear it well
Everything would shine wherever she would go
But looking at her now you’d never tell

Someone ran away with her innocence
A memory she can’t get out of her head
I can only imagine what she’s feeling
When she’s praying
Kneeling at the edge of her bed

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She wants someone to call her angel
Someone to put the light back in her eyes
She’s looking through the faces
The unfamiliar places
She needs someone to hear her when she cries

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water
Holy water

She just needs a little help
To wash away the pain she’s felt
She wants to feel the healing hands
Of someone who understands

And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me
And she says take me away
And take me farther
Surround me now
And hold, hold, hold me like holy water, holy water

The first time I heard this song tears welled up in my eyes as I was listening to the words of the song. My first reaction was thinking the woman in the song was being washed or cleansed by holy water. I took this CD to school and played it for a class several months back to illicit responses. I asked what is this song about and one of my red necked skate boarders piped up and set me straight. The girl wants to be held like holy water as something special and sacred. Here I am working on a doctorate and a student sets me straight, from the mouths of babes so they say. It got me seriously thinking and how many of us want to be held at some point in our lives like Holy Water.
A week or two back for lunch my oldest son and I were eating at a barbeque place and on the TV a Martina McBride music video was playing. It was an older one from a few years back. As I watched the video entitled, God’s Will, again I was in tears. A powerful image as I thought back to what took me into teaching exceptional children so many years ago. So I am using some more song lyrics and these are for all special education teachers a good one to save a copy of and please try and watch the video. So lyrics number two by Martina McBride.

God’s Will

I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves
It hid the braces on his legs at first

His smile was as bright as the August sun
When he looked at me
As he struggled down the driveway, it almost
Made me hurt

Will don’t walk too good
Will don’t talk too good
He won’t do the things that the other kids do,
In our neighborhood

I’ve been searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’
Lost and lookin’ all my life
I’ve been wounded, jaded, loved and hated
I’ve wrestled wrong and right
He was a boy without a father
And his mother’s miracle
I’ve been readin’, writin’, prayin’, fightin’
I guess I would be still
Yeah, that was until
I knew God’s Will

Will’s mom had to work two jobs
We’d watch him when she had to work late
And we’d all laugh like I hadn’t laughed
Since I don’t know when

Hey Jude was his favorite song
At dinner he’d ask to pray
And then he’d pray for everybody in the world but him


Before they moved to California
His mother said, they didn’t think he’d live
And she said each day that I have him, well it’s just
another gift
And I never got to tell her, that the boy
Showed me the truth
In crayon red, on notebook paper, he’d written
Me and God love you

I’ve been searchin’, prayin’, wounded, jaded
I guess I would be still
Yeah that was until…
I met God’s Will on a Halloween night
He was dressed as a bag of leaves

My son leaned over and asked, dad are you crying again, as I watched a powerful music video and song especially for some of us who are where we are to be. A calamity you might say got me into working with exceptional children and adults probably a few calamities to think of it. Nearly fifty years ago my brother John was born and my mother was in labor nearly two days. John was born with cerebral palsy. At the age of two he contracted encephalitis and suffered more brain injury. John passed away just a few years ago. John was always with his family, sharing in all gatherings, he never spoke a word, he was never toilet trained and yet he left his marks upon so many of us.
The city of Macon was segregated in its education of exceptional children till John came along. Many the people who have became teachers of exceptional children after babysitting or being around John choosing this field to teach in. My own family ended in Georgia because of John. There are so many stories of John’s impact on people. Somewhere I have a photo of John and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. One of the few photos of my father with John is dad dressed as Santa holding John on his lap.
John is buried on a hill now sharing the plot with my father, out by my mother’s house and not a day goes by that I do not look back and wonder what if this had not happened to our family would we be who we are and where we are now. My mother has answered this idea in a series of poems and thoughts she has put together over the years and published a book. As I look back for each of my brothers and sisters have responded I am sure as have I too these questions in their own fashion. I do hope these two songs will provide enough fodder to make you think and ponder as I say. So for today peace my dear friends and thank you all for the support and emails over the years so until tomorrow please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Keeping the energy flowing

Bird Droppings June 12, 2011
Keeping the energy flowing

I attend at least partially two Foxfire courses a year for teachers in Mountain City Georgia. This course is actually a graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. Last night as my son and I made our way back, this was his first experience with Foxfire and in an education course we talked about the positive aspects and negative as well. I felt good that the negative were mostly personality conflicts within various groups and not something within the program. He came away excited about teaching and education as well as the many friends he made during the week and potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off. As the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara Hilton’s wife and co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

Musings from the Mountain by Kaoru Yamamoto, The Educational Forum, Vol. 53, No. 3, 1989
“I am told that everyone needs to feel the exhilaration of being the cause of things, of making a difference. No doubt such experience boosts ones self esteem and confirms personal significance. To grow up healthy, children should certainly taste the nectar of the sense of control, power and accomplishment. However among most grown ups engaged in ministering or teaching activities, the caring and guiding take on a far less direct form, given the fact they are interacting with other human beings who have their own minds and live their respective, intimate contexts. Teachers’ function is often likened to that of a catalyst and for many purposes the metaphor seems apt. Nevertheless certain aspects of the analogy need to be kept in mind lest these helpers should become much too self-important and or frustrated. Good catalysts are seldom precious metals or stones that call attention to themselves. Theirs is a not a life of acclaim, even as their presence at the critical time and place is making a difference. They will not be a visible part of the resultant changes they are left behind, unaltered and typically forgotten. It takes a person secure in ones self to continue to serve in such an unsung capacity. The essence of this unique contribution was beautifully captured by the late Chief Dan George in yet another analogy. ‘The sunlight dies not leave its marks on the grass. So we too should pass silently’”

I now have read through this paragraph several times and each time found a bit more. I was glancing through several books this morning one is an autobiography of the founder of Foxfire who came into this purely by chance. Over the past several years I have talked to several of his former students and all consider him one of the best teachers they have ever had. For nearly forty years I have watched as enthusiastic young teachers start out and within six months are doing as so many others do running worksheets and gong page by page through the text book. Elliot Wiggontin was addressing this in his book and offered the following.

“As always there is a high ground in the middle. On this knoll gather those teachers who are determined to preserve their spirit and their love for the field. Most of these individuals like myself have a credo that goes something like this: The profession of teaching is exactly that – a profession, not an avocation or a hobby or a marriage of convenience. Because of its goals and its potential; to achieve those goals, I selected it. It did not come knocking on my door. I was searching for a way to be of real service, and I found and choose this field; I believed then as I do now, that this is a profession of honor and true merit, and though I may not remain in it for all of my working days, it will continue to deserve and receive my best.” Elliot Wigginton, Sometimes a shining moment, 1986

Keeping the energy flowing and rejuvenating the brain and soul are critical to being a good if not great teacher. I find my trios to the Foxfire courses interacting with current and new teachers to be offers me an ongoing window to what possibilities are out there. Thinking back to my seminary days and churches there is the use of evangelists going church to church to re-inspire the throngs to the church and mission. Over the years the programs at mass teacher events that are designed to do this is far more often too similar to a tent service along side the road and fish oil hucksters working from their peddlers wagon for most teachers to believe. In education as John Dewey over and over again points out.

“In what I have said I have taken for granted the soundness of the principle that education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based on experience.” John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1938

I think attending this course in North Georgia revitalizes me in so many ways as I ponder scenarios and interactions with other teachers. Being a course and for credit the students (mostly graduate course teachers or soon to be teachers) come from distinctly differing backgrounds and philosophical views of teaching. Almost immediately you can pick the ones out who are simply along for the ride. They do what is necessary because they feel this will never impact my teaching. Then there are a few who see beyond the forced upon teachers state and federal standards, regulations and testing parameters and can see that there is a fire in the bathroom borrowing from Kathleen Cushman’s book.

“Wanted: One teacher. Must be able to listen even when mad; Must have a sense of humor; must not make students feel bad abut themselves; must be fair and not treat some students better than others; must know how to make schoolwork interesting; must keep some students from picking on others; must take a break sometimes; must not jump to conclusions; must let students know them; must get to know students; must encourage students when they have a hard time; must tell students if they do a good job or try real hard; must not scream; must not call home unless it is real important; must smile; must help students with their problems if they ask; must not talk about students to other people; if it’s a lady must be good looking.” Eighth and ninth grade students, from the introduction to Kathleen Cushman’s, Fire in the bathroom, by Lisa Delpit

Over the years I have done this exercise and in several previous Foxfire courses we did good teacher bad teacher listings which often are so similar to the list above. Maybe this should be a rubric for teachers to follow. I was thinking what if every teacher followed this list composed by students. The State of Georgia Department of Education could save over three quarters of a million dollars in contract fees to establish a teacher evaluation.
I should not joke about Dr. James Stronge who was awarded the contract to develop an evaluation tool for Georgia Teachers but as I read the paragraph above it hit me we never ask students what they think. It is usually an administrator and only one administrator who see a teacher in the classroom for twenty minutes and leaves checking off the required boxes in the State mandated checklist. I always like the one; does the teacher have a word wall posted? I recall being told my internet website of vocabulary was not a word wall in our learning focused school. By chance I had computers for each student and each had differing vocabulary needs which are due to being a resource teacher in special education. Perhaps I ruffled some feathers when I got a note from the founder of Learning Focus Schools that this was a great word wall. Several months later my idea was posted on their website. Needless to say my word wall counted. Dr. Stronge in his book, Evaluating Teachers, uses a quote from an article by K. Peterson, research on school teacher evaluation, NASSP Bulletin, 88, pages 60-79.

“Studies of teacher evaluation by principal observation and report have been found to be under representative sampling, biased reporting, disruption caused by class room visit, and limitations of the principal imposed by misleading or truncated reporting systems such as checklists and narrow anecdotal systems.” K. Peterson

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned.
Perhaps in my zeal from this past week I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day please keep all in harms way on your ind and in your hearts.

Is history what happened today or tomorrow?

Bird Droppings June 11, 2011
Is history what happened today or tomorrow?

I am sitting on the porch of the Long House at the Foxfire property listening to the rain side of the mountains. Several miles away thunder is brewing and I can smell rain. There have been discussions of history obviously at this place of antiquity and artifacts of a by gone age. Nestled on the the side of Black Rock Mountain the Museum is a collection of old cabins and out buildings collected by the high schools classes back in the early days either donated by folks or purchased. The cabins and buildings were dismantled and rebuilt on the property. There is a history here and as I ponder talking with current teachers and future teachers a history in the making as well.

“Forget mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.” Will Durant

At times I find a piece a bit of wisdom and or knowledge that has significance to me as I wander reading here and there. I was looking at a quote yesterday that caught my eye by Will Durant a historian and philosopher and in reviewing and investigating found William James Durant founded General Motors and a different Will Durant wrote “The Story of Civilization” I looked further and found ideas that interested me and so a quick introduction to Mr. Will Durant.

“The one escape worthy of a mature mind is to rise out of the moment and the part and contemplate the whole. What we have lost above all is total perspective. Life seems too intricate and mobile for us to grasp its unity and significance; we cease to be citizens and become only individuals; we have no purposes that look beyond our death; we are fragments of men, and nothing more. No one dares today to survey life in its entirety; analysis leaps and synthesis lags; we fear the experts in every field and keep ourselves, for safety’s sake, lashed to our narrow specialties. Everyone knows his part, but is ignorant of its meaning in the play. Life itself grows meaningless and becomes empty just when it seemed most full.” Will Durant

Perhaps for some a bit heavy duty but in this writing there are several key thoughts. One of the ideas is that of total perspective, looking at the whole instead of simply the moment yet paradoxically he in the starting quotes focuses on the now. It is interesting in his life he transverses many social and political arenas as he searched for his own place but in reading about the man, he definitely lived what he believed in.

“Knowledge is power, but only wisdom is liberty.”

“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.”

“Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization.” Will Durant

Sitting here earlier this morning I was reading about a man who died nearly twenty five years ago yet has words still ring true. In this moment as I think back to various meetings I have been in talking about education and trains of thoughts learning and such so very true. We all too often get to caught up in where we are right now yet on one hand it is crucial to be where we need to be. This could be or sound like a riddle or a paradox you might say. Just before school let out as I was worrying about my own issues in life and others came to me with their issues some dwarfed my own simple day to day worries. One in particular concerned me as a young lady had recently gone through a life altering situation and stood we talking as the bell rang and classes were changing focus is on the bells. She ran off to class making the statement that it hurt physically and mentally a brief second in time a minute, a moment yet I was where I was too be at that moment to hear to listen even with a bell stopping and changing directions.
As I got home I received an email from a dear friend commenting on yesterdays Bird Droppings and how we still have progressed some but still a question was left. The question is really why is ‘kinder and gentler’ harder to achieve than ‘nasty and vicious’? A quick sip of last night’s green tea to spur the thought process and fire up the next line. As I think about Durant and this question and how does the event of the young lady at school between classes all tie in or do they? I will often refer to a dream I had, sometimes depending on the audience I will call it a vision, of a puzzle, a giant jig saw puzzle all falling into place each piece more intricate than the next millions of pieces all falling into place one at a time. Continually in my dream I try and see the puzzle face to understand what is this great puzzle coming together before me.
As I try and look the puzzle moves away from me turns and only reveals the gray backing. Occasionally I see an individual piece clear and precise but when I focus on a piece the process slows down for I have pulled a piece out of time and out of the effort to fall into place. I have broken the momentum of what is going on. Carefully I try and insert back into the continuing placement of pieces. Life is that puzzle, it is falling in place as we sit and read each note and though around us the pieces fall should we sit and ponder and dally too long on a single piece? Perhaps we should slow the process yet as Durant says in his starting quote forget the mistakes do it now.
I see not sitting and pondering the puzzle piece thus slowing the process but seeing the piece for what it is and putting more in place knowing you are part of a whole, an integral part. Each aspect of your life is unique yet still intertwined in all that is so as I Am writing and thinking today and you think and dream keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts as world and national issues draw us continually to the front.

Sitting at my kitchen table pondering

Bird Droppings June 10, 2011
Sitting at my kitchen table pondering

I am very much a creature of habit. I like my routines and seem to follow very similar pathways daily. I can understand when walking through the woods and seeing a rabbit run or deer trail I would myself be doing the same thing more than likely if I was running wild. For most of my adult life others have sought out my guidance on life issues. I was trained so to say between seminary and psychology and more recently education courses to be able to offer advice. All through my life I have always felt I had an intuitive side, an empathetic side that allowed me access too many peoples inner feelings and thoughts.
In working with emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children and many times adults this is a good thing, although many times it can leave you drained. But I have always felt I have been successful reaching students in all of my classes across nearly thirty five years of teaching and training. When in management I felt I was able to address issues with customers and staff in a more understanding way than simply one of profitability. This could have been my downfall back in the day. I was more concerned about people than dollars. I might borrow a few words from John Dewey and his book School and Society.

“The primary business of school is to train children in co-operative and mutually helpful living; to foster in them the consciousness of mutual interdependence; and to help them practically in making the adjustments that will carry this spirit into overt deeds.” John Dewey

It is about what children take out into the world more so than how they score on tests and what curriculum is followed or not followed. Radical educator and philosopher Ivan Illich adds:

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching it is true may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstance. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school insofar as school, in a few rich countries has become a place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

While Illich is somewhat off the spectrum from many folks standpoint he makes a valid point. In many cases schooling is simply occupying that period of time in a child’s life and doing little in terms of actual education. I try and maintain contact with kids after they leave high school through facebook and myspace for example. Recently I have been using these programs to find graduates of The Foxfire programs to some what surprising success.

“In this world, in order to enable society to develop, all its members have to assume responsibilities and make their contribution. If we do not make collective contributions then there will be no development.” The Dalai Lama, speaking to the Tibetan National Assembly in Dharamsala, May 1989
Each of us lives in a society, a community, a culture and as much as we choose so often to be individuals we are members of and interact within that group. It is the vitality of that group where the development and growth that is so intertwined with contributions physically, mentally, and spiritually of the members. Society exists because of interactions. Sounds like I am quoting John Dewey again.

“Compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force in fighting among themselves, or in pulling in different directions.” Henry George

We have to be working together moving forward, backwards, sideways and as humans do so often much time is wasted fighting and arguing among ourselves and that motion or growth is limited.

“The greatest difficulty with the world is not its ability to produce, but the unwillingness to share.” Roy L. Smith

Watching high school students form clicks and groups and adults forming clubs or social groups we tend to be a selfish animals. We look so much to ourselves and what benefits us as a first rule of thumb even unconsciously. It can be by limiting friends and such to a degree we box ourselves into a tiny space, even by sharing a simple task which so often becomes a distant one.
TV humor even plays on this subject several times in watching reruns of Seinfeld and Will and Grace sit coms giving is a chore a burden and the characters are literally parasitical instead of symbiotic. As I looked for quotes and thoughts, this one popped up earlier this morning just before I ran the dog to the groomer.

“Societies that do not eat people are fascinated by those that do.” Ronald Wright

Wright was speaking literally yet interestingly enough we of modern society while we do not literally eat people we still do psychologically destroy them. As I look at how we respond to others so often it is how we see ourselves indirectly.

“The most difficult we do not deal in facts when we are contemplating ourselves.” Mark Twain

In a project, class room assignment several students simply “completed it” they did not finish the task but answered what they thought was the question they just simply wanted done. Whether it was right or wrong, good or bad was not the issue it was over.

“Until you value yourself you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” M. Scott Peck

I read this quote and saw an answer if you truly do not appreciate your self your time has little if any value even when you are self absorbed in using it frivolously you simply are taking up time not using it. Guessing at answers to a test to simply get done or rushing through just to be over, still you wait just as the rest do so where is there any benefit in being finished. A favorite catch phrase, I don’t care, should read, I really do not care about myself. As we enter the end of another week our world is troubled and sore, please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

Bird Droppings June 9, 2011
Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

I drove to north Georgia on Sunday and Tuesday and have been babysitting Charlie my grand daughter in between. I enjoy the drive up into the mountains always going part of the way on back roads. As I was sitting around yesterday evening my oldest called from the Foxfire course with a question about his group’s project. They were trying to tie science into a restoration of a historical graveyard. I have several stops I traditionally make on my way to Macon and Warner Robins Georgia one is a nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none. However I am addressing the nursery. It is a nursery specializing in native plants, shrubs and tress and I mentioned to my son why not make this historic graveyard also a sanctuary for plants and animals. By selecting native plants and reviewing blooming dates you could almost have flowers year round.
I got to run quite a few errands before I head back in the morning and get a few things written and produced to get reviewed Friday and Saturday. I got thinking back nearly two years to my oral comprehensive exams. Much of the discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable and we all have a similar view of education. What made me think of that exam was a question that I was asked linking Elliot Eisner to John Dewey. Both men saw art as a function of education. We can argue any aspects of education in the US but interestingly enough test scores have been flat for some time. Only ones who tend to see different are ones making money off of education. Book publishers, Testing companies, and all of the consultants who are experts in the field, Georgia recently went with an out of state person in a contract to solve an in state issue. I found the biography of the contracted person very interesting. While a prolific author and professor of administration and an administrator in his own right he has only three years of teaching experience in public schools. THIs back and forth between the right and left wings of education has been heavy on my mind in recent days. I recall not too many months back that I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam.
In the past few days I found my success and or lack of success was being equated on following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I am in an odd sort of teaching role being in a resource room all day. Never more than seven students as often that seven includes some that are EBD and require more attention.
As we look at how to evaluate a teacher I go back a year or two to an administrator who had been evaluating me all year and only saw education in black and white. You find out very quickly that special education is anything but and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations were good and I never thought there was an issue till class assignments for the next year and I was out of my traditional resource and in a co-teaching setting. I came to find it was based on curriculum not success of children. As I compiled data on what students had done with me and in other teacher’s rooms all of my classes were in the top in each category but for a point or two in some where I was second out of four teachers. Some where in this I was told it is not about student success but strictly about the curriculum.
In today’s Atlanta paper two more administrators in a neighboring county are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the school questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.
In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? I remember a year or two back on a first administration of the new math test there were literally no passing grades till it was curved. How can a test over a given subject or curriculum be so hard that no one passes. Somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing.
As I talk with and gather information on my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in a program some up to nearly forty five years ago. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that teachers hate and are the norm in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talked about life long learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this to specific material to get good grades on the test.
It was refreshing in thinking back to my exam to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education and they would be on my dissertation committee as well. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better then most but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group as well as a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone often out of choice. Sort of my monasticism coming out I will say. But for me alone time provides reflection time on what has been happening during a given day.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves clearly honestly and learning to like, to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people. In many situations many wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth. Others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.
Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key. This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it is about your impact and difference you make but I can not help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in his or her life or even better for me that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by Phillip Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding an others expectations. Please keep all in harms way in your thoughts.

John Dewey might appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bird Droppings June 8, 2011
John Dewey might appreciate Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been a few days since I wrote in the morning perhaps the summer laziness has come upon me although last night it I was sitting and wondering where the loud sound outside the bedroom window was coming from. I got home from my day in the mountains at Foxfire around ten o’clock. I worked on some reading and writing till nearly one in the morning. I sat down and dosed only to be awakened with the dog needing to go out and saw a half moon trying to peek through the clouds. I will take a break today play with my grand daughter and cook some dinner and a ponder bit of one of my favorite authors Ralph Waldo Emerson although I might read a bit of John Dewey to get ready for Friday to inspire me.

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A seemingly simple thought or is it. I work in a world or class room where trust is a perishable commodity and most do not trust. It is far too easy to extend a hand or simply smile and act the part of a trusting person. I have found trust comes when a student knows they can call you when a problem arises on your cell phone and you will answer and not hesitate. Trust begins when you say hello.

“What is a weed, a plant whose virtues have not been discovered?” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So often we hear that in saving the rain forests we may find the cure for cancer and other ailments of mankind. Often the weed could be even closer to home. My first thought was to a one of my many visits to The Foxfire mountain museum and a lecture by the former curator and his vast knowledge of mountain folk medicine. Every plant had a use and a cure for something. Each twig, piece of bark and leave could be of use in mountain life. But actually when I read this quote I was not thinking of Sean Connery in Medicine Man in the Amazon jungles and or of the late Robert Murray at the Foxfire museum. I was thinking of students. Each student comes to us as a weed in a sense. The baggage of others perceptions wrapped tightly around them, every note and referral placed in their permanent folder for the next person to assume this kid has issues.
I was thinking last night as I had a very eventful day, talking with sixteen teachers and future teachers at the Foxfire Approach to teaching class. As we talked in our discussion groups and reviewed the Core Practices I continued to focus on my class room and recalled a day or two a few years back when most of my students were in out of school and or in school suspension. Each of these students had serious emotional and behavior issues. Each had antecedents to behaviors that caused their consequences, ABC a good behavioral term. It is always it seems about antecedent, behavior and consequence. But as I thought of how we so often we address our perception of that behavior and our perceived antecedent as we the teacher and seldom review the student’s perspective. THIs is paramount to Dewey’s educational philosophy seeing through the eyes of the student. My thinking reminded me of Piaget’s thoughts on children’s thinking that children and adults think and perceive differently. Actually Piaget came up in our talks yesterday.
We create a weed rather than looking for virtues. We push aside so quickly because it will take time to cultivate and propagate that virtue. So more often than not, we do this since the alternative may not be an easy task. It can take a lot of work to cultivate and propagate virtue in children.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why is it we so often choose to see through others eyes, accepting the precepts of others and not taking the time to really know someone on our own? Buried deep within who knows what we may find. It has been a number of years since a bedraggled student who in the first four or so days I was teaching never raised his head. I took in Dylan Thomas as an example of a poet and I was reading aloud he sat up and was seriously listening. Shortly there after he asked me to read another paragraph or two and then asked to borrow the book. He read it or his mother read to him the entire book cover to cover over the weekend. It turns out he was diagnosed as a severe dyslexic, and it was never posted in his files only all the behavior issues.
While this student probably has lived up to expectations of many with several jail sentences and such to his credit even now at 21 or so he still keeps in contact and will ask about new authors to read periodically. Hopefully one day some of it will sink in. We should be about cultivating the pieces we can find. After a few mishaps along the way he is now a motorcycle mechanic and married with kids and doing great.

“Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who knows what great poet, philosopher and future wise person is now being misunderstood. Each day as I meet new students I hope I will let them be who they really are and not a figment of my own perception and imagination. I will let them come to the self realization of their own humanity and understanding. As I do so often as I am sitting here early nearly midweek pondering who is the teacher and who is the student. A beautiful day but please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Annuals or Perennials

Bird Droppings June 7, 2011
Annuals or Perennials

“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” Peter Drucker

I have read so many times that education should be about teaching life long learners. Sadly as we walk to the front of the classroom as a teacher we are more concerned about the standardized test coming up and cramming all the material into that students head in time. We as teachers perhaps forget the life long part in favor of teaching to the specific test we have that month. AS I am researching on the Foxfire Approach to teaching I came upon a school where the entire school kindergarten through fifth grade is taught in a Foxfire manner. Interestingly enough they exceed the state of North Carolina’s state average scores in every test category and are first or second in every category in their district.
Beyond that school district I have been in contact with many Foxfire students from the early 1970’s and all so far have had fond memories of lessons they learned nearly forty years ago. I can barely remember my teachers let alone lessons. As I thought about this I recalled one of the Foxfire core practices.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear.” Foxfire Core Practice

Add to this a long day driving up and back to Mountain City and The Foxfire property and I am looking forward to repotting many plants tomorrow that I had sprigged or had taken cuttings from parent plants and a thought crossed my mind. Do we want students who are annuals or perennials?

“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” Abigail Adams 1744-1818

As I was work with my garden and plants some are annuals for example the various basils that I have in my herb garden at first frost are finished. However I have quite a few plants that stay green all year and some that die back till spring is here and regrow from their roots. Education seemed all explained within the various different plants I that I have been working with. Some methods of education are like basil an annual, only one season and it is gone, the teaching to a test that we hear about and is going on daily in school across America. Some education is more like those plants that die back in the winter and come back from the roots often a better and stronger plant. But there are a few teachers who teach with such passion that learning that it becomes a constant for their students.

“Good teaching is showing and that’s what lasts. That’s the big question: How do you teach in a way that lasts?” Dr. Donald Graves, Professor, University of New Hampshire

I have often wondered about how we teach in a way that inspires learning and inspires students to want to become life long learners. Going back to my Foxfire research and Core Practices, “The work is characterized by active learning.” It is learning through experience that provides a focus for Foxfire teaching and in effect for good teachers. A good teacher provides relevance to the learning and teaching going on.

“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connectedness among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” Alfie Kohn

“Howard Gardner has a nice line: he says if we ask our kids what they did in school today and they reply “Nothing,” they’re probably right. They didn’t do anything because traditional schooling is “done to students.” Alfie Kohn

“Looking at the long-term impact of traditional teaching and the push for Tougher Standards, then we are finally left with Dewey’s timeless and troubling question: ‘What avail is it to win ability to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul.’” Alfie Kohn

I go back to my plant comparison as I was thinking earlier and how it takes about the same effort to grow an annual as a perennial plant. In teaching it is about the same we can teach in a manner that is lasting or one that is only for the moment the test at hand.

“John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends.” Alfie Kohn

I will be repotting perhaps thirty plants tomorrow and all are perennials and I do have few seedlings that are annuals I will be working with as well. The potting soil will come from the same bag and will be equal in measurement. The containers will be all the same. My hands will get just as dirty with one as the other. How do we get students beyond the moment in their learning?

“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

I have used this quote from Einstein many times over the years and have it hanging on my wall at school and yet every time I read it I am struck again how can I be that potent teacher. Listening to students remembering bits and pieces of classes of mine even from summer school where one summer we labeled and tagged all the trees on campus and learned scientific and common names sort of hit home. There was relevance to them as we walked around the campus identifying trees. It was not on the standardized test but every student who had failed Biology passed the final during that summer session and also knew nearly fifty different tress and shrubs.

“John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do ‘resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes.’” Alfie Kohn

It is about providing that connection and giving the student a reason for what it is that is being taught not simply because it is in the state standards and required to know for a test imposed by state and federal law.

“Many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students instantly responded with the phrase Life long learners.” Alfie Kohn

I would like to believe much like the Foxfire students that I have had communication with this week my students from over the years will remember bits and pieces I have shared and taught. One in particular comes to mind as I close out this evening writing. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.