Whose job is it to find the door?

Bird Droppings January 13, 2012

Whose job is it to find the door?


I enjoy arriving at school while the stars are still shining overhead providing me with significant quiet time to ponder my day ahead and previous. I was thinking back a few years to when my son would ride to school with me. He was not quite as big a fan of seeing stars as I am, he missed that few extra moments of sleep each day and now in college gets up at eleven or so if my granddaughter doesn’t wake him sooner. On one of my excursions to a Barnes and Nobles book store I picked up a copy of James Bradley’s book Flags of our fathers. The opening quote is a very powerful, what if? James Bradley was a Navy medic who was involved in World War II specifically at the battle of Iwo Jima and the raising of the flag on Mount Sarbachi. Coincidentally my father was also on the beach atIwo Jimaas a medic and saw the flag go up. Many stories were told to us growing up of the landing and carnage that happened there during World War II.


“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 students, teachers and parents. I can recall although 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. Amazing as it was all because as children seem to do, he let a test or two slip by. Our school has a mandatory meeting policy when a student has less than a seventy five percent grade in a class the teacher has to have a conference that is in the school rules and guidelines. 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, she was tired when she got home from work. “What the hell are teachers paid for anyway?” She was a bit over the edge and distraught that her baby was failing.

Ideally it would be great if each teacher could spend time each day with each student and seemingly that is what legislation appears to be trying to do except now we lose days to furlough and or we have larger class sizes. But then you do the calculations, in a one hundred or so minute class with thirty three students that is less than three minutes apiece if there is no start up or down time. That is ninety seconds or less for each student and that is not enough time for many of them to even get out a piece of paper and write their name let alone learn.


“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


Sometimes I feel like I use this one daily. This has been a favorite of mine for many years and one of my own puzzles I have been pondering for quite some time and even recently discussed as I looked at containers and sponges only a few days back. However as a parent and a teacher how we make our parenting and or teaching so potent because really this is not a one person show here it involves home as well. How do we, or who should 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? A good friend in a discussion led me to bring John Dewey up and I explained quickly his views on education. My friend’s response was why do we not do this? The hard part explaining to folks is we deliberately do not do this.


“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 provide 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


“Problem is the political arena has convinced people that high school is about making better workers…instead of helping the kids to discover what they want to do….” Steve Miletto, Georgia Principal of the Year 2009, Osborne High School, Cobb County


Very often as I sit and think about how we work with kids I recall ideas from John Dewey and from Steve Miletto a former principal of mine who indirectly got me back reading Dewey. This passage written by Mark Smith relates four thoughts from John Dewey’s philosophy:


1. Engage and enlarge experience – Draw on what the child knows and has seen and touched, build on that then develop that and move forward with it.


“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 Daumel


2. Thinking and reflection – This is that aspect that Einstein refers to that has baffled the sages down through time. How do we get students or anyone to think and then as Dewey teaches to reflect on that.


“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


3. Interaction and environments for learning – Providing an atmosphere that students want to be in is a key to success. This could be it at home or at school, if a child does not want to be there it is difficult for them 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


What is the context for the learning? How are we providing rationale and reason for what is being taught? Content is easy it is in the text book but providing context is where doors are opened.


4. 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 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


It is up to parents, students, teachers and administrators we each have involvement in a student’s learning. There is no specific script that is better than another I have found as I study and read on curriculum and various learning programs. As I listened to a mother want we the school do take over all she did at home or should do at home. I wondered what you are going to do now, take a vacation as a parent. 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 and all are integral aspects of getting a child to learn, or to have an appreciation for learning.

So who opens the door is not as important as that it is open and students, parents and teachers can each find their role and build upon what has been brought to the table. It is up to each of us to try and do just a little better each day in all that we do with our children. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.



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