Looking on a morning in a direction

Bird Droppings January 22, 2012

Looking on a morning in a direction

 

“Beginnings start in the east – from where the sun rises we begin a new dawn. Each day is a good new day with a fresh beginning, a new start.  East is the direction of the physical body and newness including children and newborns? It is the time of change for all is a new beginning, new ideas and seeing the light. The color yellow is the path of Life, to begin the walk as a warrior, to shine in all that you do. The sun rising in the east empowers each of us. The energy to do and to begin the action of the mind and heart is there. Animals of wings and flight are from the east include the hummingbird, the owl, and the hawk. Our words are given to the east that the smoke in the air or the voices in the air may be carried to Spirit.” Tree Song

 

I was outside much earlier this morning trying to get photos of tornado warning clouds swirling about. We have had several large fronts passing through and warm weather shifting to cold and back almost daily. So this morning we are under a tornado watch. I was listening to the sounds of morning in a spot I where I have been sitting now for nearly seven years at our house towards an open field. Many sounds are just beginning to awaken as the sunrises each morning. The stillness and solitude of early morning on some occasions off in a distance is broken by a rooster calling or generally more likely starters for the morning are crows and mockingbirds. Today it was a mockingbird that came to visit as I sat listening and watching the sun come up. It has been some time since I have heard nearly ten years however since I have heard a rooster crow from my door step.

 

“Sioux Morning prayer

Let your voice whisper righteousness in our ears through the East Wind at the break of day. Let us be blessed with love for all our brothers & sisters on Earth so we may truly live in peace. Let us have good health mentally & physically to solve our problems and accomplish something for future generations. Let us be sincere to ourselves and make the world a better place to live. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin” Unknown Author Traditional Sioux prayer

 

The Sioux end prayers and meditations with the phrase, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin, which means, All My Relations. Many will questioned or wonder why end with such a vague phrase? But to the Indian all about is part of who they are and it is to all that they offer this Morning Prayer or thought. I downloaded images of various critters we found in pond water. After a long week of teaching, observing, photographing and waiting at home my granddaughter I succumbed to being a bit late starting today. I went home yesterday ordered pizza, sat and watched a recorded movie for about an hour and when my granddaughter got there played toll I fell asleep.

 

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

 

            The other day my mother gave a copy of her notes on my growing up childhood years. One is a story of how when very small around three years of age I ran away. I actually only went across the street into the woods. I will offer the entire story one day but since I was young I have enjoyed the solitude of the woods and nature. There have been many times in the various pathways of my life where I would find places to go and be alone with nature. Seldom have I been confined long in a place where I cannot escape to the calls of the wild and sunrise. Recently a friend posted photos of Cumberland Island which lies along the Georgia Coast and is protected. It is considered a wilderness area and off limits to most exploitation. Sunrise on Cumberland with no one for miles can be pretty spectacular. You have to camp on the island however to see a Cumberland sunrise. While I started with the east today it is about direction that I am writing.

 

 “I am always doing things I can’t do; that’s how I get to do them.” Pablo Picasso

 

I raised the question of purpose on Friday with a student and in an email last night an idea had me thinking. A dear friend said four people had raised the issue of purpose in life recently and she is going through a time now seeking her purpose. Before I went out I wrote back to her, for me it is not what is my purpose, as much as I have purpose and knowing you are significant in each aspect of what you do, borrowing from the Sioux again, Aho Mitakuye Oyasin. Over the years I always thought I would one day open my eyes and see “My purpose” and I have come to understanding it is not a destination purpose is very much a journey.

It has been many years ago that I experienced a vision or a dream of a giant jig saw puzzle falling in place that sorted it out for me. I could not see the puzzle front every time I tried and look it would turn away revealing the gray backing. I had to be content to know it was falling in place piece by piece and each piece was more intricate than the last. As we seek direction on our journey as I thought and we have a powerful friend in our faith. Doors will open as they need to. I spent nearly two years sorting out where I was to go, working with indigent families and receiving enough barely to cover cell phone and mileage. A door opened in teaching and even then I was presented with tests. It was five times that my name was presented by a principal who wanted me teaching and four times I was turned down. On September 11, 2001 I was allowed to go back into teaching.

I have used the illustration of a puzzle often over the years and throw the word purpose about every now and again. There is an aspect of our journey we are directly involved in and that is direction, which way are we facing as we take that next step.

 

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy; a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lays disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson

 

I was looking this morning for words dealing with direction each time I tried mapping and directions came up. My oldest son finished his certification in GPS many years ago. He was working with an Environmental Science class at the high school mapping trees and positioning using GPS devices for a project and it hit me how so focused and reliant we have become on technology. We are at a point in our technology where we can ascertain thatSumatramoved 20 centimeters in the huge earthquakes of years past. But so often we have a hard time determining where we are going today let alone in life.

 

“The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made. It requires troublesome work to undertake the alternation of old beliefs. Self-conceit often regards it as a sign of weakness to admit that a belief to which we have once committed ourselves is wrong. We get so identified with an idea that it is literally a “pet” notion and we rise to its defense and stop our eyes and ears to anything different.” John Dewey

 

I can always find a spot for a Dewey quote. Dewey is not the easiest read in the world, often his thoughts are in details we are not used too. Far too often teachers look for an easy fix to a complicated issue. In life far too many times we take the easy road.

 

“Instead of looking at life as a narrowing funnel, we can see it ever widening to choose the things we want to do, to take the wisdom we’ve learned and create something.” Liz Carpenter

 

“You don’t have to buy from anyone. You don’t have to work at any particular job. You don’t have to participate in any given relationship. You can choose” Harry Browne

 

For many they see life as a funnel, a narrowing down rather than a spreading out. It has been many years since I walked the Appalachian Trail inNorth Georgia. Often when walking up a mountain, there are switch backs that would be used rather than a direct ascent. A switch back is a path that cuts back and forth up the mountain rather than straight up, and with a heavy pack a direct route is often impossible.

 

“The way to activate the seeds of your creation is by making choices about the results you want to create. When you make a choice, you activate vast human energies and resources, which otherwise go untapped. All too often people fail to focus their choices upon results and therefore their choices are ineffective. If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.” Robert Fritz

 

So often in life it is the first step, or that opening of the door is so difficult. When I did go back to teaching, I could have stopped at first rejection. I applied at five or six schools. I was not certified, and in order to get provisional certification you have to be employed, an interesting paradox. For some reason a principal thought I might work out and kept pushing, and at the board meeting I was hired, then called back, my sister had been hired who I recommended and so I couldn’t work there. Then my name did not make a meeting and second effort was defeated and a third and fourth. Finally a teacher had a nervous breakdown and was out indefinitely and a long term sub was needed and eventually a teacher. The board made allowances for my sister and I started on September 11, 2001.

It was many months later when the principal was putting a list together that I was asked what day I started and I couldn’t remember, it was the week after labor day and a Tuesday because approval was needed on Monday. The first step is the roughest many times.

 

“You are the person who has to decide. Whether you’ll do it or toss it aside; you are the person who makes up your mind. Whether you’ll lead or will linger behind. Whether you’ll try for the goal that’s afar. Or just be contented to stay where you are.” Edgar A. Guest

 

“When we acknowledge that all of life is sacred and that each act is an act of choice and therefore sacred, then life is a sacred dance lived consciously each moment. When we live at this level, we participate in the creation of a better world.” Dr. Scout Cloud Lee

 

Dr. Lee is a motivational speaker, author of twelve books, a singer, song writer, University professor and former cast member of the survivor series on CBS. She was voted Outstanding Teacher of the Year atOklahomaStateUniversityin 1980, andOklahoma’s Outstanding Young Woman in American in 1980. In 2002, Lee was honored to carry the Olympic torch exemplifying the theme of “Light the Fire Within”. Perhaps this is a good place to stop today Guest states “you have to decide” and Dr. Lee offers “we participate in the creation of a new world”. I’ll end up with a line from an Aerosmith song

 

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

 

Perhaps ending with a Steven Tyler quote is a good one since he is one of the judges on American Idol and a former student is on to Hollywood. Maybe he will exemplify his song and provide direction for some young people on their journeys in life. So please my friend’s keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Trying to get back to normal or is it abnormal

Bird Droppings January 20, 2012

Trying to find a way back to normal or is it abnormal

 

“Your son or daughter may be flashing warning signals that he or she will soon
drop out of society and join the “hippie” movement. If you know what to look
for, you may be able to prevent it.” Jacqueline Himelstein, How To Tell If Your Child Is a Potential Hippie and What You Can Do About It, 1970 P.T.A. Parent Education Pamphlet

 

I noticed a post on Facebook to a rather interesting website, Word of Mouth Critical Pedagogy that I am a member of and post to.  It caught my attention being a post for parents to catch warning signs of their children becoming hippies which I have been called over the years many times. As I read through I found it most interesting and actually having been involved to a degree in that era of change seeing the reminders from back in the day struck a chord. The first sign is “a sudden interest in a cult, rather than an accepted religion”. I found this intriguing as so many of our large churches literally are cult followings sort of thing and now considered main stream. The second followed the first with “the inability to sustain a personal love relationship drawn more to group experiences. In so many instances I see being part of a group now more significant than individuality for so many people.

One of my favorite musical artists in Neil Young and falling right into that period of time seems about right.

 

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming, four dead in Ohio. Gotta get down to it soldiers are cutting us down should have been done long ago. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground how can you run when you know?” Neil Young

 

Perhaps it was just a wandering thought of it has been about a year since the shooting in Arizona of a congresswomen. But while I was sitting thinking and pondering now a few days back one afternoon listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall, the song Ohio played and stuck with me. It has been a long short week. Holiday Monday and catch up all week. We are all still trying to get back in a routine at school thinking back to last year where we had a three week scheduled break and a week for snow and ice we had were out over a month. It is literally trying to find my way back to normal and it is taking a few days or more to do it.  As lunch time at school rolls around I keep thinking I might have to escape at lunch to run home and hold my grand baby as well if they get down from school early. Adding to my new routine I am amazed at how quickly we change our life style and focus as grandparents. Anyhow back to my original thought I was listening to “Ohio” by Neil young and the song sort of stuck with me and as I pondered how you ever get to normal after an event like that. Incidentally one of the shooting victims from the Arizona shooting was at Kent State nearly forty years ago and lost a friend. I went looking for a few notes on the song and borrowed from Wiki-pedia the following:
“’Ohio’ is a protest song written and composed by Neil Young in reaction to the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was released as a single, backed with Stephen Stills’ ‘Find the Cost of Freedom,’ peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although a live version of the song was included on the group’s 1971 double album Four Way Street, the studio versions of both songs did not appear on an LP until the group’s compilation So Far was released in 1974. The song also appeared on the Neil Young compilation album Decade, released in 1977. It also appears on Young’s Live at Massey Hall album, which he recorded in 1971 but did not release until 2007.” Wiki-pedia

 

As I thought back with the song in my head to that day so long ago and where I was at the time finishing up spring semester at Eastern Baptist College in St. David’s Pennsylvania and starting to volunteer at a program in Paoli, actually getting my feet wet in teaching, where my brother was a student so many memories coming back all around a song. At Eastern Baptist we all started to wonder if the antiwar groups on campus that were relatively radical at the time were next for the National Guard. There was a tension that is hard to explain especially if you are a nineteen year who has seen and heard so many horror stories about the war in Viet Nam and at that time violence on campuses in the US.  We all wondered then if our country could ever get back to normal.    

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders from all those who would profit by the new order.  This lukewarmness arises partly from the fear of their adversaries who have the law in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind who do not just believe in anything new, until they have actual experience of it.” Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)

 

My mother sent this Machiavelli quote to me and back in the day and today so many similarities in our public awareness on both sides of the fence. I skip back to this past holiday season and for us as teachers in our county an extended break with a shortened calendar year and longer days to save money and then an extra week due to ice and snow. I find I am seriously a creature of habit and being out of routine for so long it is very hard to get back to normal. As I look at the national scene in politics and legislation I often wonder if we ever will actually do things for the people of the country and no longer for sponsors of politicians. On a passing thought maybe politicians should be required to wear stickers like in NASCAR of sponsors.

 

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau

 

            It has been some time since I came back to Thoreau. I recall reading about him and Walden back in high school but it was just an assignment at that time. I as a student was living this quote. I was going through the motions of a being student but never quite really understood what it was I was doing there or why. Somewhere in Macon Georgia at Mercer it clicked and I became a student and found that being a student and learning were two completely different things. This is sort of like realizing how engrained our routines actually are in our daily lives. I come into school clean my room each morning and get ready for the day sit and write read a bit feed my various room critters and get ready for students. I had more to do since my classes changed almost daily this past week students  in and out so my personal writing time was affected in the morning and now not having all day to run errands it is confined to a narrow window in the afternoon and then home to cook dinner and rest for another day.  

 

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. “ Henry David Thoreau

 

            I took a picture on January fourth of this year at sunrise and posted on facebook like so many images I post. I wanted to use a Thoreau quote on my “Wall of Fame”, at school and in looking through my images this sunrise was so intense it just seemed right and so it became a poster for my photo wall at school. As I read over several times this quote from Thoreau started to sink in. I need to think over and over those deep thoughts that I want to attain and accomplish and rather than procrastinate go about following my path way to completion. So I am slowly getting back to normal and just emailed a friend after a month long break it takes four or five days to get back in the groove. We have as a nation, state, county, school and family so many things ahead of us we need to begin working through and around and over so we can get back to normal. Then of course I really don’t think normal is where I probably ever will be according to many. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

 

Why can’t Swiss FAmily Robinson, SWR take over

Bird Droppings January 19, 2012

Why can’t Swiss Family Robinson, SWR take over for NCLB?

 

About two years ago to the day I spent the better part of the day driving between Macon Georgia and home and back. My son needed some books and a few things from the house and to buy text books. Timing as it was banks were closed kind of like this  past Monday so I could not just transfer some dollars to his account and since his calculator was one of the items he needed the journey was necessary. I have a way of going to Macon that involves literally all back roads and many images of rural life and humanity as I drive. It seems to me as I put on some music and observed driving along a two lane road that much is there to learn and to see. I am co-teaching two biology classes and today weather permitting we will be walking down to gather some pond water for classifcation purposes. We will be looking for microscopic critters. Another point is to show how much is out there for a project the kids are working on a sort of your own field guide book. When I drive I ponder how many images past by me and I past by. There are literally millions of plants, animals, people, cars, houses and they are all just images as I drive along. But it does give me time to think ponder as I say.

When I first stepped outside this morning the stillness over whelmed me. All was quiet even if just for a moment, ever so still, nothing moving, the air was still and sounds were none existent as I stood listening. I could hear the clicking of my dog’s toes nails on our walk way and as I stood going deeper into the stillness in a spot perhaps further in the trees I could hear a coyote barking maybe it was just another dog. With the temperature warmer than the past few days a few crickets who perhaps live along the edges of the house were chirping although slower than during the warmth of summer but still trying to get a song out. Overhead a fingernail moon sort of hid off and on behind a gossamer veil of mist and clouds.

I started thinking of a student I had several years ago that was never listened too and listened too much all at the same time. He has tourettes syndrome, we as a society hear only his tics, the vulgar rantings that go on endlessly and never ask him what he thinks. I keep thinking of our national school policy of No Child Left Behind and look at so many who are. Those kids who do not fit the mold maybe they are border line in cognitive levels and more so they are often severe from a behavior issue standpoint. So as a result it often pushes schools to quietly push these kids aside albeit leave them behind. It could be a developmental disorder such as autism, or even better a conduct disorder that actually is not even covered under state guidelines and there is no place left in our efforts to include everyone in our molded and boxed schools.

It was several years as I was sitting in a graduate class deep in South Georgia’s pines and farm land and the discussion was focusing around what is an ideal school setting.  My immediate spontaneous thought was Swiss Family Robinson. Maybe it was not the book as much as the Disney movie that I consider a classic. Culture and knowledge was taught by books of course both parents were very well educated and the allusion is father had been a teacher but the context was constantly taught in the survival effort in the jungles of their island home. Each of the children was excelling in areas of their own expertise but able to apply their knowledge in real life situations.

So do I see schools of the future designed around tree houses and jungles? Perhaps not but borrowing from great educational thinkers of the past and present we could build in context, we could elevate the knowledge we teach and try and embed relevance for our students. On that Saturday in graduate school as we talked about the history of education in the US various issues came up. One significant one was how teachers have become non professionals and how students have simply become product and somewhat less than human in terms of legislation and political motivation. They have become human capital to be manipulated and prodded and pushed in what ever direction policy dictates. Often in whatever direction capitalism demands consumers. A comment was made about the number of teachers and in being tied to consumerism. Sadly Wal-Mart employs more people in theUSthan education does. Think about it more Wal-Mart employees than teachers a very powerful idea, not really good or bad, just interesting in a society so regulated by political means.

Last block of the day Friday a student whom I have never really had walked in and I asked what was going on. He was complaining about a substitute teacher and how she did not get along with the class, she wanted them in assigned seats and took roll and wanted quiet. I am some days amazed at how some former students and often former student’s buddies end up coming by my room. That was the case here a former student from three years ago and this other fellow stopped in.

 

“The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson

 

As the day ended and students cleared the hall I headed over to chat with some friends. I stopped at several points that I normally do and the substitute teacher finds me and asks about a particular student and guess who it was that was very disrespectful to her and by chance the room we meet up at is another teacher’s who has this same student as well and similar thoughts, a very negative student, belligerent and very disrespectful. Knowing the student and that he had with some teachers excelled I smiled.

 

“To me every hour of the day and night is an unspeakable perfect miracle.” Walt Whitman

 

Perhaps a seemingly random thought as I look at this morning so far. I was cleaning up my email inbox and as I went various quotes and stories sent from friends and associates I was copying and pasting to word documents to save. So this is a random quote simply pulled from the thin air or for whatever reason not deleted many days ago or is it coincidence that each quote and story today really is applicable. As I look at the teacher and substitute teacher and the student are they looking at life as Whitman suggests? Why is this student reacting the way that he is?

My good friend Dr. James Sutton a psychologist inTexasaddresses many of these types of teacher student issues in his books. Sitting here in the stillness and quiet I just had a great idea we could have for teachers an 800 number to call for help with difficult students. I wonder if anyone would pay to use it. But in reality there is a mind set with teachers and students often from day one.  Something is there with that student that is blocking or keeping him or her at a distance and the result is turmoil between teacher and student.

Everyday I have other teachers come by can you do this for me. I emailed a friend I need to put a sign out by my room you need testing done, essays or papers written, send your students here, whatever stop in. Then it dawned on me many of these students will not do anything for some teachers. One comes to mind and it is a certain type of teacher this students does not like he will literally fail because of his personality and conflicts. But what about in order to fairly evaluate get that essay written or test done in an unbiased place with someone who is not fighting with or in tension with that student, actually not a bad idea, I wish I thought of it. I need to email that teacher or two or three and commend them.

 

“Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way. Never cherish such a thought. What I proclaim is the truth as I have discovered it and “a system of teaching” has no meaning because the truth can’t be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system.” Diamond Sutra

 

Not a good rationale for curriculum perhaps that is why I am enjoying my major in graduateschoolofCurriculumtheory. I do think in terms of life and relationships this very definitely applies however. Far too often we tend to look at life as all is this way. If I go over here it is the same if I go over here it is the same. I remember a teaching job in Macon, I was expecting little nice 12 year olds and when I got there the average age was 15 and in those days EBD wasn’t sorted out they were just all in that class. I survived day one to plan for day two and all went well, although I forgot to mention I took an eight foot boa with me on day two and those rough and rowdy 15 year olds had a great fear of snakes at least when I first pulled my buddy out of the gym bag. We then proceeded to talk about snakes and each student by the end of the day had handled and held the snake.  I did not have another issue for two weeks and was offered the class full time and almost took it, however my studies at Mercer University were to start in a week.

It is so difficult to try and treat every thing in education as neat and clean. Trying to understand a student that is different in terms of the “nice” perfect kids is not going to work. So what truths do we set down, what principles can guide us in dealing with a kid who is disrespectful?

 

“If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” William Penn

 

Sitting on my desk on a 4 inch by four inch board decoupage to the board and cute burnt edges is this quote. It was given to me over thirty years ago inMacon,Georgiaby a student from that first class of hooligans.

We have all heard the saying about do not complain till you have walked a mile in my shoes. Howard Eubanks and also another former student of Dr. James Sutton’s seminars and an EBD teacher inNorth Georgiaemailed me this story a few years back.

 

“Did you hear about the Texas teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots? He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. Finally, when the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’ She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, ‘These aren’t my boots.’ She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to, and once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner than they got the boots off he said, ‘They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear ’em.’ Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’ He said, ‘I stuffed ’em in the toes of my boots’” Author Unknown

 

How many times each day with students do we forget to check the toes for mittens? We want everything just so, perfect little darlings, all in rows and little cute name tags and all in cute little outfits and quiet and neat handwriting and so forth. We really are trying to pull boots on everyday and every class with mittens in the toes. In a high school class it is hard to walk in and with a wave of the magic teacher wand, “poof” all is well. It is hard for many teachers to check all the cowboy boots for mittens. When you think there is a problem try and you try and build fail safes, have a core group of teachers you can check with. Maybe there is an issue with that kid maybe his mittens are really stuck in there deep.

So many teachers would much more rather write a referral and teach by referral. If all my students are in “In School Suspension”, I will have a really great day. I will have to admit there are students when I see they’re out I cheer but I do it under my breath and to myself. But I am finding many teachers just do not want that chance, they do not want to look for mittens they might soil their hands. School custodians will always provide paper towels and for the squeamish use the gloves in your first aid kit. I am being literal in a symbolic thought.

Many months possibly a few years ago a friend sent this email note:

 

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Ride! ”

 

I am not sure where or who said this but a slight alteration and paraphrase from me.

 

“Teaching should NOT be a journey to the end of the day with the intention of arriving safely with perfect attendance and all the “A” students all in order and lesson plans in an attractive and well preserved lesson plan book, but rather to skid in sideways, Ideas in one hand – Creativity in the other, energy thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Day!” fbird

 

I bumped into another teacher after school last Friday and they asked how was my day and I said “I had a blast,” I really should have said I think I found about a dozen pairs of mittens. Please my friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

We have to try and care

Bird Droppings January 18, 2012

We have to try and care

 

So far for this year and the tail end of last year all the snow, sleet and ice predicted have never showed up. It has been unseasonably warm with only a few nights getting below freezing. I lost my phone yesterday as I headed home from school and find it amazing how dependent we have become on our smart phones. I did not know my sons or my wife’s numbers and had to look up my cellular accounts on the internet. Fortunately as I walked in my phone was sitting at my last stop as I headed home yesterday.

As I headed in to school today a brilliant smile greeted me in the sky. A crescent moon was gleaming away after a night of rain and storm. Sitting here pondering my writing for today yesterday I was sitting talking with some students on war and faith and how human beings have such fickle and often conflicting views which create much of the tumult in the world. In a roundabout way the discussion ended up with Mother Teresa. I have always been impressed with the attitude and faith of Mother Teresa.

 

“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.” Mother Teresa

 

It is difficult for me to even imagine the ability to do what Mother Teresa did day after day as she was walking the streets of Calcutta India dealing with poverty and human suffering I can barely imagine. In the above thought she asks to light a light in the hearts of people and I try and compare and feel like a match stuck barely casting a spark.

 

“No matter what age you are, or what your circumstances might be, you are special, and you still have something unique to offer. Your life, because of who you are, has meaning.” Barbara De Angelis

 

“The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live.” Ethel Percy Andrus

 

As I look at my day and my effort to try and emulate some of humanities great givers I realize I am here now in this moment and that other person was there at that moment and for now even if only a spark, a minimum of light, it is light and it is shining and what I can do now within the context of where I am is what is so important. My morning is spent before class in the hall literally talking to students often students who are walking down the hall simply being there. I interject questions, how are you and such and often more times than not make some smart remark “I wonder if they are still grouchy today?” Yesterday my friend who wasn’t speaking too me I followed down the hall directly behind her with comments like, some people just are annoying, they stop talking to other people for no apparent reason anyhow after about fifteen feet of annoying remarks she turned around cracking up and said ok I will talk to you. Later in the day I think a well of holding back spilled out have you ever tried to listen to a kid with ADHD try and explain why they were mad at you and all that has happened in a week in fifteen seconds or less it requires hypersonic listening.

“It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” James Baldwin

 

“It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.” Richard Braunstein

 

Always as I read Mother Teresa’s comments the “L” word comes up time and time again love is the focus of her thoughts and statements. In teaching so often it is difficult to use that word, parents find it hard to tell their children. I have heard many times the line “my children know I love them even if I do not tell them”.

 

“The most satisfying thing in life is to have been able to give a large part of one’s self to others.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

“In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” Flora Edwards

 

It amazes me how people do not see how love and giving are really selfish. When you love and when you give it is returned the circle is complete. I know this is an understatement and love and giving are not selfish by any means but it is so true that this circular motion occurs it may be simply the feeling of doing good. Later today I am doing a poster for school about the relief fund one of the classes has started. It is a feeling of good will of love while these kids will never witness any effect that what they do here in our town collecting money for a relief fund actually does there is satisfaction and pride in the effort.

 

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” Kahlil Gibran

 

 “He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.” Lao-Tzu

 

I have been a visitor in schools where teachers wall themselves up in their rooms’ They open the door for class and lecture close the door then open the door and maintain this assembly line routine through the day and never once have true contact with a student. They take roll I did that the other day started calling names and said we have been required to call roll and students must raise your hand and say present after about two or three students actually did it one pipes up, “Mr. Bird but you know we are here” and therein lays the difference. Some teachers are so engrossed in not knowing their students they never know they are there. Many choose not to give for a fear of caring.

I called a home yesterday and spoke to a dad if I can call him that. He was pleasant and polite. I asked about his daughter who is a ninth grader. She was with friends for the weekend and he had told her she was responsible for her ride to and from a town about thirty miles distant average car 10 miles per gallon that is 3 gallons either way a total of six gallons of gas and if careful we can get gas for $3.35 so maybe $20.00 in gas. It seems she could not get a ride back and he told her he could not afford to come get her. Perhaps my comprehension was a bit off. If one of my children went out of town for the weekend and was unable to get home I would have found twenty dollars in gas or found a way to get them home. My initial reason for calling was due to attendance.

 

“A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty of forests. I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high.” Fiona Macleod

 

“We must give more in order to get more; it is the generous giving of ourselves that produce the generous harvest.” Orison Swett Marden

 

“In Giving, a man receives more than he gives; and the more is in proportion to the worth of the thing given.” George McDonald

 

I was looking through old photos from back in the day and found several of some friends from Auburn Alabama. These photos go back nearly twenty five years. The young man in the photos used to work for me when he was in college. I jokingly recalled as I talked to his wife after I spontaneously called after looking at the pictures. I remember meeting his wife’s father for the first time. It seems my friend was hiding in our stock trailer at a livestock show her daddy did not want her seeing him and he was looking for him amazing how time is and now they are now business partners. But a small side note they lost a baby several years ago and now have two healthy boys and the third pregnancy is going fine near to full term. As I talked with my friends wife she offered that in her heart it was meant to be there was a reason and she may never know why they lost a child. It had taken two years but they were having another baby and you know every day I end with remembering those in harm’s way well in harm’s way is a big term keep this unborn baby in your thoughts these are special folks.

 

“If we want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” Mother Teresa

 

“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?” Mother Teresa

 

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.” Mother Teresa

 

 Today make an effort to know your students, your children, your friends, your family and those you meet so as I do every day please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird

I saw a red tailed hawk

Bird Droppings January 17, 2012

I saw a Red Tailed Hawk

 

As I look at that statement it is meaningless for many, a red tailed hawk crossed my path as I traveled yesterday flying across the road landing in a tree. Behind our house since we moved in a pair of hawks has hunted the fields and hedge rows. For some there is significance as each sighting of a specific animal has meaning to them. I have had an affinity for red-tailed hawks for many years. By my desk at school and at home are tail feathers framed and even my daily meanderings, Bird Droppings is based on the idea that not all bird droppings are bad, a red tailed hawk feather as an example.

It has been a nearly six summers since I had the privilege to teach in our summer school program. We changed to a two day class time and do work sheets sort of intersession and the fun is gone. Actually it was a lot of fun back in the day as we surveyed the flora and fauna of the campus. On day one of class I asked how many plants were on the campus, meaning actual different kinds of plants. The answers ranged from ten to fifty.

 

“Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.” Maimonides

 

That statement has significance in education and in politics today. As the summer school session went by we pressed and labeled over 100 different kinds of plants trees and shrubs all directly on the school campus and still had many more to go. So where is the significance to a red tailed hawk, really it is only one of several species of raptors in Georgia  and it is not uncommon to be seen sitting along the road side quite often waiting on prey in cleared areas of easements and fields. However it has been nearly a month since I have seen one which is significant because I look for them. Much like my students until they looked, they really did not know how many plants were so close at hand.

I am also always amazed when we are looking too hard we miss what is in front of us. Yesterday I was not directly looking for a hawk and it appeared. A single second or two later and I would have missed it. Life is much like this as well. I have spent many hours looking for something simple and only have it be where I looked to begin with and did not see it.

I am not one to normally save an editorial page today I found one from many, many years ago that I had filed away. I happened to glance through the pages from the AJC (Atlanta Journal Constitution) and several editorials on one page caught my attention. One opinion was about sin tax proposed by the governor on cigarettes and alcohol which now legislators are looking for other ways to cut budget and not do good things like, green space purchased by state, layoff in the university system, and cuts in TANF. It was basically finding $400 million dollars of other ways to cut rather than tax cigarettes, it is so interesting how we think.

Across the page a short article on underage drinking and how 25% of alcohol is consumed by teenagers and interestingly alcohol tax and cigarette tax were both indirectly conceived as a means of cutting down teen consumption. It has been a few years since the state flag issue and it got an eighth of a page and several letters to the editor including a letter from a man inGriffinGeorgiaquoting Gandhi.

 

“Any country would prefer its own despot over a foreign controlled system no matter how benevolent that government might be” Mahatma Gandhi

 

This letter was in reference to our taking overIraqand the Gandhi quote was in reference toBritain’s takeover ofIndiaso many years ago. Now I recall why I saved these pages nearly eight years ago. There was also an interesting letter concerningFrance. “Francemight be the voice of reason”. Another headline read to the effect, “US States IRAQ compliance not the issue we will go to war it is only a matter of when”. I am rambling looking for red-tailed hawks and reading eight year old AJC editorials all in one sitting and still only three quotes for today.

I am concerned are we rational as we wake each morning and go about our days. We have been watching a war unfold and now refold which is really for most of us simply on the news, although numerous deaths have been hitting home daily. Still even though many of us know friends and family involved, it still is over there. Several days ago as I looked for a red tailed hawk and was frustrated because no matter how hard I looked I could not find one my son would see one and state dad a hawk and I would miss it. The hawks were there but for some reason I did not see it, I did not turn quick enough, or maybe it flew by and was gone. It was not until I stopped forcing the issue did the hawk appear. We can set lofty goals and seek to fulfill them, but so many times in our straining miss the accomplishments along the way.

Going back to that old newspaper there was Rose Kennedy’s quote that spoke of the moments versus the milestones.  Several days back I used a phrase from a former professor at Eastern College Dr. Tony Campolo “CARPE DIEM”. It is the title to one of his books and is Latin for, seize the day. I was skeptical to use a quote with a religious twinge to it but C. S. Lewis is not a typical theologian so I may borrow a quote from Mr. Lewis.

“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.” C.S. Lewis
 

It is about the moment right now seize the day put aside the milestones and seize the moment. As I reread Lewis’s quote each time a different view, or understanding. Perhaps as I was looking for a hawk I missed the point until I stopped looking and in his words find the answer. Each day is a chance again to start anew, fresh as if we can begin again and ponder, think or seize the day, again and again. So for today CARPE DIEM and as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Trying to understand friendship

Bird Droppings January 16, 2012

Trying to understand friendship

 

Today I get to sit home although I will probably shortly run by the school and catch up on various things. Being out of synch on a Monday holiday getting up a bit later than I usually do, I generally start each morning with writing, this has been a very relaxing part of my day and as I got up to start I was sort of out of sync this morning congested from the dry heat of our gas heating system and maybe just lying in bed a bit longer than normal.

I am now sitting at my writing table checking my plants; I have several tropical salvias started and some strange succulent that I got from our school green house for free. I am starting the day a little bit later than I normally due by pondering on a weekend of events and happenings. One I need to seriously sit and think about that has been going through my head since a talk with a good friend yesterday who happens to be Muslim and a book I am reading about Archie Fire Lame Deer a Sioux holy man and shaman.

My friend and I discuss politics, religion, people in general and life on a regular basis other than recently when he took three weeks of vacation to go to Bangladesh to see his family. Yesterday he was talking and made a statement about his own faith and how he believes he is correct in his understanding through Islam of God. As I am reading a Sioux account of life and Waken Tanka, the great mystery it is interesting coming from a Christian upbringing and background how it seems everyone considers their faith to be correct. But this is food for more diagrams, thinking and some deep pondering. Although the crescent moon and clear sky had me leaning in favor of Archie Fire Lame Deer winning the discussion if it were held today in the twilight of a new morning.  

Another subject which has for many years kept me thinking and one day I need too for a research project investigate new teachers. I am always amazed the first semester they are interesting as they come in excited and exuberant.  Some keep it going and continue while others burn out all too quickly. I noticed as I came in new teachers were beating me in and I am usually one of the first here each day, I am the first there each day according to sign in. It has been good seeing old friends and making new ones the past few weeks of a new school semester. It seems each day students past and future show up at the door to say hello or be shown my crazy room.

 

“If we would build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love friends for their sake rather than for our own.” Charlotte Bronte

 

Nearly nine years ago as we went through that first morning back to school, some teacher’s call it the annual PEP rally which is put on by the county office, they showed a film entitled FISH, it is about being excited and having fun at what you do. It was about involving people and choosing your own attitude.

 

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend — or a meaningful day.” Dalai Lama

 

I have a good friend who has shown the same movie to a similar crowd and they had a hard time understanding it then and they still have a hard time understanding it today.  I was once asked by students why do I teach. My first response was because it is fun. Many former students came by daily before school and it is always interesting to note what questions are asked and what stories remembered. I was talking with my friend yesterday when several former students walked up and with those two my first question was “not in jail right now” and they joked about how they had not been in several months. But there very next question was, Mr. Bird is your room still crazy and do you still have Stevie the wonder snake? Somehow even tiny pieces make an impression be it holding a ball python or even seeing a ball python for the first time.

 

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

As I watched people pass by in the hallway daily each person is unique many are smiling, some are sad, others are laughing, maybe even some are joking about what I may never know. Why I am here makes sense now, perhaps we can make a difference no matter how small.

 

“Everybody needs one essential friend.” Dr. William Glaser

 

I find Dr. Glasser often has interesting thoughts as I sit and think we all need someone somewhere to bounce ideas off and to be able to be truthful with and to discuss openly ideas and thoughts. One of the other books I am reading is written about students views of teachers and education and it opens with a student written, advertisement to hire a teacher. That stuck with me, another good one might be an ad for a friend, but what would we write in that?

 

“Friendship needs no words…” Dag Hammarskjöld

 

As I saw that quote the reality of friendship hit, there are no definitions really that define friendship adequately. I watch people on various websites using BFF and BF and various abbreviations for friend, but as I sit here thinking there is no abbreviation in reality for a real friend. It is difficult to understand friendship, for in defining a friend it also implies how we go through life and seek our way in this journey and those are crucial pieces of who we are. A quick note on a bright cold and humid Georgia morning with one day till a historic inauguration please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and above all always give thanks.

namaste

bird

 

Testing testing testing is it needed

Bird Droppings January 15, 2012

Testing testing testing is it really needed

 

I was reading in some older National Educators newsletters several key articles both of which dealt with assessment. I have for many years tried to reflect on my own progression in terms of assessment. During the past ten years at two different colleges, while studying under and with a group of professors who very much exemplify the values of real education it is a rather interesting discourse. I have watched in my own views and attitude of what is effective and ineffective assessments grow and evolve especially in the past few months. 

Trying to develop a concept of assessment and effective assessment has been in many ways an obsession. Since my first teaching experiences in 1970 I have been thinking about and planning how to assess and evaluate teachers effectively. I have been trying to develop an assessment tool that could effectively measure and quantify the ability of an individual to coordinate and assimilate material to a group of students. In a seminar I got into a discussion with Max Thompson of Learning Focused Schools fame he brought up the fact:

 

“In Georgia a teacher could teach to an empty room and still have an excellent score on GTAP, the Georgia assessment for teachers.” Max Thompson

 

Effectively in our current GTAP system you are only measuring delivery not affect or results of the teaching. Conversely in assessing students how often are we doing this?

In being a student as well as a teacher and currently looking at how I am assimilating information it is interesting to then apply that aspect to my own students. Many summers ago I would use mnemonics driving toAthensto memorize definitions for aReadingcourse. I never read the book, which I probally should not say and since I was teaching summer school 7:30 – 2:30 and in class in graduate school 5:00 – 9:30 each day I had little spare time. I would copy key words this was after knowing how the teacher tested and then write cards of definitions in mnemonics. On eight quizzes seven were prefect scores of one hundred percent, after doing mnemonics. Only one quiz was a lower a seventy five percent, which was the first quiz strictly from memory alone. Do I remember today that information probably not? So was the tool used to assess poor or were the students the issue in this case.

A good point in looking at assessment is: When is the student the issue? I have spent the better part of eleven years now in the classroom literally round the clock as a student and teacher. I have seen teacher’s assessments in all fields as I teach summer school and do some tutoring as well. As a teacher how do you blame the student for coming up with a good grade by innovative systems we actually teach them in class such as mnemonics? Are students the reason for problems in assessing? Students do not write the tests in at least in most cases so how can they be the issue.  Students are an issue if the teacher is unaware of their particular needs and abilities.

 

“Many times teachers are unaware of abilities through lack of training or simply not interested in finding out and students then suffer. With current trends in education and such terms as Inclusion teachers need to investigate and try and understand the student population they are teaching.” Exceptional Children 69, Barriers and facilitators to inclusive education

 

I have seen teachers frustrated because they will not make an effort to know their students. Many teachers look at the class through a card board tissue tube. Their view is so narrow it loses focus for its own focus. Sadly this is many teachers. Conversely many students are looking back again through a card board tissue tube.

 

“Many teachers have lost their passion for teaching.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

 

I have discussed with teachers and have had teachers tell me they design tests for failure. That intrigued me. A serious teacher actually designing an assessment tool for failure, a tool to show how much of what wasn’t learned or taught as a test for a class you teach, the amazing logic somewhat eludes me in that case. Although in our Georgia State high school math test it was put out knowing the pass rate was less than failure rate and an enormous curve was factored in.

 

“The word assessment is a noun and goes back to 1534. It is defined as the act or instance of assessing or the amount assessed” Webster Dictionary

 

Defining the word assessment presents a similar issue to Thompson’s example of being evaluated for teaching on simply the process. Is assessment simply the act of assessing? Is the tool merely a process? Somewhere along the line I understood assessment a bit differently. Assessment is a tool a teaching tool. That tool can be used to show where weaknesses are in subject matter so far presented. It can be used to see what information has been exposed and evaluated and assimilated by students. It can be used as a tool to reinforce key ideas and information. Many years ago Mr. Frank E. Bird Jr., my father used the term FIDO as an anocronym in teaching a subject.

 

“The FIDO principle – Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again provides a simple tool for teaching a subject.” Frank E. Bird Jr. and George L. Germain

 

            Current trends in schools are being focused around assessments and many schools are focusing on staff member simply on testing scores as Federal and State mandates become stricter and tougher with the federal law, labeled “No child left behind”. Within our own school system we have been trained in Learning Focused Schools, a research based program that when applied effectively does work.

Looking at assessment has become an interdependent aspect of each teachers planning. Developing a pre-test and post-test now is required. Georgia Graduation tests and even State mandated End of Course tests are a reality. Within local school systems federal and state authorities are labeling those systems poor schools that do not meet standards in assessments.

 

“Assessments are being developed to evaluate schools and schools effectiveness in providing for the educational well-being of students.” The United States Department of Education

 

            Perhaps I am a bit overboard today as I sit and write. I was reading earlier an article about children in India, Chinaand US and a movie made about them, Two Million Minutes. The movie was focused on these seniors in high school and their differing views of life and reality. As I think further how can we compare students in India, China and US, with the tremendous differences in culture alone as a major factor. The apathy within theUS in regards to education and the approach used by government to try and play catch up, mandating all children will be at grade level by 2014. There is never a look at how our culture impacts motivation and learning. Perhaps that is an argument for another morning. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks.

namaste

bird

 

A tapestry woven as a spider spins a web

Bird Droppings January 14, 2012
A tapestry woven as the spider spins

“For certain fortunate people there is something that transcends all classifications of behavior, and that is awareness, something which rises from the programming of the past, and that is spontaneity; and something that is more rewarding than games and that is intimacy. But all of these may be frightening and even perilous to the unprepared. Perhaps they are better off as they are, seeking their solutions in popular techniques of social action, such as ‘togetherness.’ This may mean that there is no hope for the human race, but there is hope for individual members of it.” Dr. Eric Berne, Games People Play, 1964

The title intrigued me as I was sitting here 3:33 AM pondering which direction to go in this morning’s writing I was thinking about students, parents and teachers and how so often the intertwining of personalities produce the fabric of the day. I recall in a graduate class a professor friend used the term or representation of weaving. Our lives are a tapestry being woven each day as we go. Last night as I checked my email I opened a website I had found several years back of a two scientists who enlisted a group of weavers in Madagascar to assist in weaving from the golden orb spider’s dragline silk, the outer strands used in building a web an eleven by four tapestry. Literally millions of golden orb spiders were milked of their silk to produce this masterpiece. It took over four years to collect enough silk and only one other time in history had this been done and that weaving had been lost in a European Museum many years ago. In order to find the story, “Spiders Wranglers Weave” is the web title.

“Each person designs his own life, freedom gives him the power to carry out his own designs, and power gives the freedom to interfere with the designs of others. “ Dr. Eric Berne

Only a few days ago walking down the hall wall I got into a discussion on wool and weaving. For many years I was directly involved in the sheep industry with raising breeding and of course shearing the sheep, and selling lambs and wool. I traveled nation-wide photographing and talking to producers and writing about the sheep and the wool industry. I met over the years many hand spinners and weavers as I traveled. Some were artisans spinning yarn as fine as silk and weaving literally pieces of art work. Back in the day we had a ewe a Hampshire cross ewe that was appeared black, however when you sheared her the fleece was chinchilla gray. For many years back a dear friend would get that fleece each year for her spinning and weaving. Somewhere in a box is a small ball of yarn my oldest son spun one afternoon when he was six with that fleece, my friend showing and helping him manipulate his fingers on the spinning wheel.
Life as Dr. Donna Andrews, chairperson of the Special education department at Piedmont College commented in class is a weaving an intertwining of events and people I recall from many years ago in her class.

“A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do, nothing else. “ Mahatma Gandhi

One of Gandhi’s methodologies of protest was to spin and weave his own cloth rather than rely on industrial produced material. Many other intricate thoughts were woven in as well; spinning is for many a form of meditation. The process of weaving, creating and designing a piece is literally a painting of a picture with thread and yarn. The spider silk tapestry is priceless and currently resides in a museum.

“A man’s action is only a picture book of his creed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

So as we weave our cloth in life we are seen by the fabric, the pattern, and the methods we use to make that work of art or piece of cloth.

“When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. “ John F. Kennedy

With each progress report we call students, parents or guardians to discuss issues and grades. I speak with several parents over the phone and in person with each report. I walked through my room after school every day reading a poster that has been hanging around now on my wall where ever I end up for 30 years or more, Children Learn what they live. My thoughts as I sit today pondering Dr. Laura Nolte’s words on my ancient poster and thinking of weaving. While one weaves silk another weaves burlap in life. Silk has many great attributes as does burlap and the applications and uses vary. To spin hemp into twine and weave the burlap is as much a skill as the artisans who weave the silk threads into cloth. The weaving and material made is not the issue but it is that weaving that is occurring. Only in our semantics and perceptions are the qualities lessened between silk and burlap. For it is in that effort that is being made, to produce a life and direction or history that reality is formed.

“Understand clearly that when a great need appears a great use appears also; when there is small need there is small use; it is obvious, then, that full use is made of all things at all times according to the necessity thereof.” Dogen Kenji, Zen master

Recently I used the word direction and drew criticism from a teacher trying to explain that choosing a direction in a journey and not truly having a destination is sometimes a meaningless effort. For some just going is the norm. I actually carry a compass in my briefcase and some would find that odd. My reality is that you never know when you can help someone find the way. I always speak of the journey being more important versus the destination but there is a generally point to head towards. When building a house first you build walls you determine where doors and windows are needed and add them as you go. A really good builder knows ahead and plans for doors and windows and designed properly a house can have huge windows and great doors and movement in and out occurs continually.
Many years ago I was sitting alongside a fence in a field far away from houses and people I watched a spider spin a web. We see webs all around I was told there are thousands of spiders per acre in any field. Many of the spiders are minute and nearly microscopic. Anyhow the spider climbed to a point and dropped leaving a strand of silk climbed and dropped and so forth building a base for her web. Next came the cross lines and soon a web was built over an hour or so in the process. We see webs and easily sweep them away but the design and care in making is engrained in the spider. Life is a weaving a spinning a web of sorts and yes so often is simply swept away. Occasionally someone will stand back in awe of the artistry if only we would take note every time. Please as we partake of this day keep the many who have been devastated in Haiti and across the world all who are in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.
namaste
bird

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.

namaste

bird

Passing along knowledge

Bird Droppings January 12, 2012

Passing along Knowledge

 

It has been nearly nine years since my wife and I attended a turning and burning, near Gillsville, Georgia. It was a gathering of potter’s, getting together to sell their wares and turn a few pots and of course fire up the kiln. All of the artisans we went to see are traditional folk potters using a wood fired kiln affectionately known as a ground hog kiln due to the fact it is often built into the ground. I mention this as a photo sitting behind the computer on my table of paraphernalia and books is of many years ago at a craft show in Perry Georgia, Mossy creek Arts and Crafts festival.

The picture is of an old man working at a potter’s wheel while my two youngest sons watch intently. The potter is the late, Mr. Cleater Meaders of Perry Georgia. Cleater was the nephew of famous folk potter legend Lanier Meaders, of ugly face jug fame. Both Lanier and Cleater have pieces in theSmithsonianMuseumof Art. Every year for the past thirty three or so my wife and I have been going to the Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts Festival twice a year and would watch Mr. Meaders turn pots. My kids grew up watching and fascinated as he would use his hands and take a lump of clay, knead and mold and then spinning on his wheel and turn that once formless lump of dirt into a work of art.

 

“The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

 

A potter uses ideas and dreams then molds and shapes that through the clay into art. Teachers much the same take children and mold and shape into students. Eleanor Roosevelt mentions the future belonging to those who believe in the power of their dreams. We have to as parents and as teachers instill hope and provide fodder for dreams to grow.

 

“The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.” Amos Bronson Alcott

 

As I read this statement many Zen teachings and thoughts past through my inner being. I was thinking of a recent writing I did on my philosophy of teaching. Teaching is an osmotic event that in happening has both teacher and pupil gaining, learning and growing from the event.

 

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” Thomas Carruthers

 

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” John Cotton Dana

 

What a powerful statement and one forgotten by many parents and teachers both. Both quotes are what teaching and parenting should be about. As a parent you will hope your children will become parents, adults and your job becomes less and less, though never over. Some parents forget that. A teacher hopes that as their students learn soon they will teach others, and the circle is complete.

Every day I face the challenge of students who for one reason or another truly do not want to be in school. They would rather go through life not knowing anything than face learning. The joy and the thrill of learning has been dissipated somewhere along the line. It could be from a poor teacher, a poor parenting job, an illness or disease, some physiological reason and even psychological for that matter. Somewhere desire is gone along with drive, ambition, and hope.

 

“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

 

Leave it to one of history’s greatest thinkers to sort it all out and show the issue. I have used this quote many times over the years. How do we make our teaching so potent, to overcome home life, friends, all the ills of society and any ills the individual might just have. It is a big how-do we?

 

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

 

 Leave it to Ralph, I have gotten on a first name basis with Mr. Emerson lately, it seems we are getting to be rather good friends.

 

“Those who know how to think need no teachers.” Mahatma Gandhi

 

These are two different views and thoughts yet saying much the same from Emerson and Gandhi. If a child truly learns to think, which is the hard part the job gets easier. If a child can think then they really do not need teaching as much as directing. Watching a student who can think learn is amazing, as one piece leads to another and soon questions are asked and answers lead to more questions. Thinking probably would put teachers out of work. The real problem is getting students to think, that is the hard part.

 

“We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit.” Robert H. Shaffer

 

One of my favorite authors of recent times is Sydney J. Harris who in an article on education compares teaching to stuffing sausage casings and how it should be more like culturing a pearl.

 

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William A. Ward

 

Several days ago a student said she was going toNorthGeorgiaCollegeto become a teacher. As I listened it dawned on me the greatest success story for a teacher is for a student to want to become a teacher. While this particular student was never one of mine she has somewhere had some great teachers who have inspired her. I look back on my own educational journey of nearly 50 years and it has been the great teachers along the way that inspired me. At times there have been some like Mr. Meaders who were not in a school but in the passing, talking with, and listening to the patience of a man turning a pot on a potter’s wheel while explaining carefully to the children watching. It was his passion that spilled over.

Sitting atop my debris on my writing table is a book by Robert L. Fried, The Passionate Teacher. Passion is what we should as teacher pass on to students. Passion is what in any aspect of life we should embrace to truly see all that is within it. 

 

“Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.” Colleen Wilcox

 

I started with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which actually was the starting quote for a past Learning Disability newsletter that came out.

 

“The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

 

It becomes our job to help students believe in their dreams to overcome the obstacles holding them back and with that a final thought as I start up each day keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.

namaste

bird