Translating and communicating are critical elements in teaching

Bird Droppings June 19, 2013
Translating and communicating are critical elements in teaching

“Scientific management is always on guard against people who don’t fit securely into boxes, whether because of too much competency, too much creativity, too much popularity or what have you. Although often hired, it is with the understanding they must be kept on a short leash and regarded warily. The ideal hireling is reflexively obedient, cheerfully enthusiastic about following orders, ever eager to please. Training for this position begins in the first grade with the word, don’t.” John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2010

I was reading my copy of John Dewey’s Experience and Education yesterday the one I have used for three summers as we discuss Dewey in North Georgia. I use a differing highlighter each time to show new understanding or maybe more so what I missed last time. As I was pulling my books together for this week I also found my first copy from nearly ten years ago the only one that was available back then a tiny version that old folks like me have a hard time reading. The most recent printing is a slightly larger font and much easier to read. While looking for Dewey’s book I also found my copy of John Gatto’s endeavor. The subtitle of the book is; A schoolteacher’s journey through the dark world of Compulsory schooling. Gatto is an award winning former retired teacher of thirty years and he does see the issues that are rampant in education today. Teaching to the test is not just a catch phrase but a method of teaching that literally is being taught to teachers. Here is what is on the test now teach just this.
In about six weeks I will have students in my class room again. I will be walking down hall ways and talking with students and teachers and I wonder will anything be different than when I left. I wonder if teachers have studied how to be more effective and if students read and became more scholarly over the weeks of summer. Some teachers will have attended graduate school and many will have attended leadership training programs teaching them how to better manage teachers and students and move them through the processes of education so that required tests get passed. A few may have opted for philosophy, literature, psychology, social studies or numerous other more liberal arts sort of courses.

“An effective teacher is one who is able to convince not half or three quarters but essentially all of his or her students to do quality work in school.” Dr. William Glasser MD.

Dr. Glasser goes on in his book The Quality School to explain his ideas. I found it interesting one of his first references is to Dr. W. Edwards Deming who revolutionized industry in Japan. A US quality expert who US industry barely recognized was contracted with by the Japanese to improve quality and in a few short years they over took and surpassed US industry in production as well as in quality. I can recall only a few years ago when a certain US car company used the slogan of “Quality is job 1”. A good view of quality is resale value of cars and trucks. Amazing how nearly all of top ten best resale vehicles are Japanese.

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.” Dale Carnegie

Carnegie provides a quick guide to life for teachers, parents, students, and children. I have always felt example is the key, in almost any aspect of life. I wish it were not so but how we look and or are perceived is often how we are judged first in life. What we say can affect those around us and how they determine whether or not to believe us or not and always how we say it. What do we mean, looking at Carnegie’s words I wonder if some where there is more to communication?

“A world community can exist only with world communication, which means something more than extensive short-wave facilities scattered; about the globe. It means common understanding, a common tradition, common ideas, and common ideals.” Robert M. Hutchins

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

Nearly opposite yet both hold elements needed but in order for people to communicate around the world even in another town a common language a common set of words and ideas is needed to initiate thoughts. It is also knowing that each person may see the world different and be able to work around that and through that.

“The higher you go, the wider spreads the network of communication that will make or break you. It extends not only to more people below, but to new levels above. And it extends all around, to endless other departments and interests interacting with yours.” Donald Walton

I went by Wal-Mart yesterday looking for a very specific item a charger for my camera I had left on my bed at home my camera charger. As I walked about I was thinking this store was a mini mall for this community, people were not just shopping, they were walking about, talking, window shopping in a way, looking and they were everywhere. Wal-Mart had become a focal point for this town. I had been to a Wal-Mart Sam’s club recently talking with a manager and other staff. There is a network of communication. I find it interesting in the news Donald Walton is under fire for his support of high stakes testing and the Industrial Revolution John D. Rockefeller idea of producing workers.
As I sit here going back through my morning writing I have used many icons of industry as featured quotes. I started using a quote from an educator who implicates industry as a culprit in this methodical process of education we now have. Creating workers yet each of the industrial leader’s quotes does not imply that. Yesterday as I emailed back and forth with several friends we discussed building a network of teachers and working that network, wouldn’t that build a powerful teaching tool. What about a parent network where issues could be in the open immediately and clarified and discussed rather than become a sore and fester. We have the technological tools to do this right now and waver. Communications such a crucial item in today’s fast paced world and so over looked. Today is a day where a week is nearly over please keep all in harm’ s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Empathy; do we all have it?

Bird Droppings June 18, 2013
Empathy; do we all have it?

It is has just gotten light on this side of the mountain outside Clayton Georgia as I sit here pondering do I go down and get breakfast or finish this dropping. It has been wet here in the temperate deciduous rainforest of North Georgia and cool at night than what I have been living in at home with the heat getting to mid-nineties nearly every day. I have two more days of classes and will be heading home for a night and then back up. The local weathermen are predicting rain perhaps today and tomorrow in their forecasts but I am hoping to dodge a few rain drops as I drive the winding mountain roads to the Foxfire property. But I do enjoy that few moments as the fronts are mixing and moving about the smile of the slight moon intermixed with the fluffy interspersed clouds in the starry sky when you can see it through the trees and mountains.
I do miss walking about the tree lined view of my back yard on a beautiful morning. I often wondered how it can be chilly in the summer evenings and yet so hot during the day. Even when the air conditioners are silenced and many of the human noises gone I think the slight coolness helps numb the noise as on some mornings it silences the tree frogs and crickets. Maybe everyone is huddled deeper in their beds and covers enjoying that last few minutes of coolness before venturing out into the heat of the daytime. It has been so easy to fall asleep no air conditioning and a water falls only a few feet from my window I keep checking for slashing on the sill.

“The capacity for consciousness of ourselves gives us the ability to see ourselves as others see us and to have empathy with others. It underlies our remarkable capacity to transport ourselves into someone else’s parlor where we will be in reality next week, and then in imagination to think and plan how we will act. And it enables us to imagine ourselves in someone else’s place, and to ask how we would feel and what we would do if we were this other person. No matter how poorly we use or fail to use or even abuse these capacities, they are the rudiments of our ability to begin to love our neighbor, to have ethical sensitivity, to see truth, to create beauty, to devote ourselves to ideals, and to die for them if need be. To fulfill these potentialities is to be a person.” Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, pp. 74-76

Empathy is a difficult word to discuss as for many it does not exist and then others live each moment by this simple word. As I look at May’s idea of empathy “a capacity for consciousness” we are all conscious I would think but I do believe it is also being able to see and feel in someone else’s shoes that is the key to this consciousness. Another word love perhaps as well is an integral aspect of empathy. I feel empathy is crucial to any field dealing with people be that nurses, teachers, pastors literally anyone who daily has contact with others. For these folks empathy is a must it is that gift that allows us to be closer to be able to touch the soul of another being or in touch with the energy around us.

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession” Sophocles

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.” Scott Adams

“Smile at each other, smile at your wife, smile at your husband, smile at your children, smile at each other – it doesn’t matter who it is – and that will help you to grow up in greater love for each other.” Mother Theresa

Some key I might add crucial aspects of empathy might be such words as kindness, love, and caring these are all positive attributes of empathy. Adams says there is a ripple effect. I have used the pebble in the pond story many times but when you toss a pebble into still water and the ripples emanate out from the point of contact going till they hit the edge of the pond and in effect they return only colliding with the ripples still in coming. That small act does continue many times over. Several years ago a movie was made of small acts of kindness and the impact on a community and I sit here thinking what if. I recall Dr. Norman Vincent Peale nearly forty years ago discussing how when you do something either good or bad for someone ten others will know and spread the information and it magnifies exponentially and hopefully it will always be good.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” Kahil Gibran

“…successful learners also have insight into the motives, feelings, and behavior of others and the ability to communicate this understanding–in a word, empathy.” B. F Jones, The New Definition of Learning: The First Step to School Reform

The word empathy is defined as: “understanding so intimate that the feelings, thoughts and motives of one are readily comprehended by another.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language A simple word that could be so powerful and can be a powerful tool for teachers, nurses, pastors and all who service others. Empathy can be that key to the heart and souls of others. Recently in defining my own philosophy of teaching I used the word empathy as a key aspect. Simply put having empathy makes for a more meaningful and believable teacher. I was talking with a good friend the other day and discussing consequences both he and I seldom if ever have referrals. I have never given detention in twelve years. Sitting there talking I said is detention a meaningful consequence for example talking in class. One teacher told me what else do I do? My answer was have class so intrigued they are not talking mesmerize them to a point of attention. Most consequences are due to not teaching, not empathizing with students, not trusting, not understanding and most significantly not caring. I have been asked about referrals, in school suspension and out of school suspension over the years. I have found nine times out of ten writing a referral and waiting a few days for a consequence effectively negates the consequence so why not deal with the issue in class unless it is such that needs serious attention and immediate action and then go directly to administration. Then again back to empathy why is this issue even happening could it be for attention or a plea for help?

“In addition to the shared feeling and accurate understanding dimensions of empathy, some writers also focus on the empathetic person’s communication of understanding to the person whose “internal frame of reference” he or she has grasped.” Kathleen Cotton, SIR, Developing empathy in children and adults

“Regardless of conflicting views about the appropriate place, if any, of “values education” in the schools, people are generally able to agree that developing this capacity to understand, appreciate, and communicate meaningfully with others is an important and desirable goal. This enables us to move away from our differences of opinion about the specific CONTENT of “good character,” focusing instead on the PROCESS whereby people come to care about one another and communicate that caring through their behavior. “ Kathleen Cotton

One of those times I wished I could say I wish I had said that. So often we forget that this interaction with others is so critical to success in life not only in school but when you walk out the door to your home and to the store. Each moment we are alive we interact with others unless we sit on a mountain top somewhere contemplating about the passing of a cloud as I sat here in the garden below the falls yesterday pondering a bird bath made from a large concave boulder North Georgia mountains. Not a bad thought, I wonder if there is a decent pay scale for that position sitting on a mountain. We interact and if those interactions are in an understanding way in effect that is empathy. There is so much more to be gained by both people. Kathleen Cotton writes further about developing empathy in students and adults and perhaps this is something we should be pursuing. I wonder if Empathy 101 could be a required class in teacher’s education and training. I was discussing this a few days back with my sister who also teaches as I argued that empathy is hard to teach it is not a book learned aspect of life. Her thought as she explained is that it can be taught daily by example. We learn empathy by example it takes an empathetic person to teach another person empathy. Maybe we all should try and empathize a bit more and set the example for others so they too can become empathetic. Maybe then I would not be offering daily please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. As you go about your day please give thanks for all Namaste

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Pondering and researching education while listening to a waterfalls

Bird Droppings June 17, 2013
Pondering and researching education while listening to a waterfalls

I came up to North Georgia to recharge perhaps another word might be to rekindle my passion for education and learning as I have for nearly ten tears attending Foxfire training programs. I started writing before day break listening to nature’s sounds. I am staying in a room overlooking a waterfall with my windows open wide taking in the sounds. Trying to write in the lulling sound of water running is difficult and I did doze off again. With the sun up I moved my computer to a porch overlooking the falls fully intent on pulling out my Bose ear phones and listening to Crosby Still Nash and Young. The sounds and energy of the water have me mesmerized. I walked about the area just before dark taking pictures yesterday evening pondering the week ahead discussing John Dewey and Foxfire and the implications that can made in a teachers room. Actually I am behind in my reading as of the moment. So I will try and get some writing done.
With the bulk of education in the early 1900’s following closely the Industrial Revolution and mass production, a few great thinkers took the concept of the individual child in psychology and education in new directions as to its relationship to children. How children were viewed became the basis for several educators to develop their theories and ideas. Child psychology and child centered educational ideas flowed from these thinkers. John Dewey reminded us that the goal of education is more education. To be well educated then is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure the learning never ends. Alfie Kohn educator and author refer to Dewey and to his idea of providing for a lifetime of learning. In his book What does it Mean to be well educated?, Kohn points out, “many classroom teachers asked to specify their long term goals for students, instantly responded with the phrase life-long learners.”
Dewey was not alone in his thinking which was in direct contrast to the traditional educational practices of his day. Dewey was frustrated with the rationale of educators when he wrote

“Why is it, in spite of the fact that teaching by pouring in, learning by a passive absorption, are universally condemned, that they are still so in trenched in practice. That education is not an affair of “telling” and being told, but an active and constructive process.” John Dewey

The traditional philosophy of education was this focus away from children and their interests, and not trying to understand children simply seeing them as small adults. Traditional education was about efficiency and production which were carryovers from the Industrial revolution. It was time for progressive thought to get away from the assembly line processes of traditional education. One of these new educators a thinker, author, scholar, and advocate for children Alfie Kohn throughout his writing illustrates this point.

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

In a burst of educational energy just prior to the turn of the century numerous educators and scholars were developing ideas that often parallel John Dewey as they sought to come up with a better way to teach children. Howard Garner in his book The Unschooled Mind states discusses some of this basic history of progressivism.

“Progressivism is most frequently and most appropriately associated with the name of John Dewey. In fact, however the practices of progressive education had already begun to be implemented in the period before 1896…Leaders like Francis Parker, first superintendent of the Quincy Massachusetts Public Schools, later principal of the Cook county Normal School in Chicago, and finally a founding member of the Chicago Institute, which ultimately gave rise to Dewey’s educational facility at the University of Chicago.” Howard Garner

While Dewey was establishing himself in educational history in the United States across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe Dr. Jean Piaget was developing child centered education which would lead along with Dewey and Vsygotsky to the concept of constructivism. Piaget believed each aspect of child development followed clearly defined stages and this did not change child to child but could occur at differing speeds. Dewey saw the past experiences of children so often not even being recognized and yet at that point is the basis for their ability to learn.
In a similar fashion a medical doctor working with mentally disabled children in a residential setting in Europe was looking at the child centered aspect of education as she developed methodology with a developmental learning process in mind. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book The Advanced Montessori Method describes her philosophy and understanding of educating children.

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Another psychologist looking at children in a developmental approach was the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky whose work was not discovered by the western educators till the later part of the twentieth century. Vygotsky also saw experience as a significant factor in children’s development. Retention of previous experiences facilitates adaptation to the world around them and can give rise to habits when those experiences are repeated. Vygotsky differed with Piaget in that he said learning can precede developmental stages. We can acquire use of a given tool in order to attain a certain stage of development. Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development which is “the distance between actual development determined through independent problem solving and the level of potential development through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”.
There are some similarities to Dewey with Vygotsky; much like Dewey he also felt there was a significant element of group interaction needed for education to be meaningful. The ideal school for Dewey was one that took the form of an “embryonic social community,” one in which students were encouraged to cooperate and work together and learn from each other as well as their teachers.
The originators of constructivism Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey all started with psychology and that the child is a unique individual as they developed their interpretations and understandings of learning and education. Even today the child is not the focus of education. One need only to leaf through the tables of contents in recent educational journals to discern that the individual child is not the focus of educational reform. Each of these great educators believed in the act of doing as a way to learn and as Ted Sizer points out that there is context. “What I have learned is context is everything….. The memorable learning was that you have to be very respectful and very sensitive to the values, to the attitudes that youngsters bring into class, that their parents have, which the community has”. Montessori and Piaget leaned towards the developmental stages in child development and Dewey and Vygotsky while accepting developmentally sound stages as real felt the community, peer group and teachers elevated learning past developmental points of reference. Maybe it is time to look back to Dewey.

“Curriculum has held our attention for generations because those who think seriously about education understand its inherent possibility. Maxine Greene’s call for a return to the search for John Dewey’s great community, her call to rise to the challenge of coming together without losing each person’s unique way of being in the world challenges our educational imagination.” Mary Aswell Doll

For Dewey an educational experience had to be connected to the prior personal experience of students and also to a widening or deepening of future experience. It was through reflection that Dewey saw the ability to go beyond where you were now. John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do “resides in its connection with the stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes”. The act of reflection is taking a given reference and moving ahead to a new possibility. Often it is the teacher who provides the window for reflection to occur.

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

It was in this reflective, imaginative undertaking of Dewey’s that provided ideas and thoughts that led Elliot Eisner to Art Education. In his writings Eisner looks to the arts as a basis for education and his ideas and thoughts offer a new stream from Dewey. John Dewey once commented that the stamp of the aesthetic needed to be on any intellectual idea in order for that idea to be complete. It is this feel both imaginative and sensible that the so-called academic studies would foster if they were modeled after the arts. Dewey identified making things as one of four fundamental interests of children. Unhappily, because schools put so little value on making things, most of us grow up with contempt for work done with our hands. Eisner drew often from Dewey’s idea on needing context and relevance for learning to be genuine and to be lasting. Eisner places experience at the center of learning.

“It is through the content of our experiences that we are able to perform two very important cognitive operations: we are able to remember and we are able to imagine…. Imagination …works with the qualities we have experienced. What was not first in the hand cannot later be in the head.” Elliot Eisner

“One of the potential virtues of situated learning is that it increases the probability that students will be able to apply what they have learned. When the conditions of learning are remote from the situations or tasks in which what is learned can be applied, the likely hood of application or some would say transfer is diminished.” Elliot Eisner

The idea of imagination needing to have a basis in reality, in the context, is of significance. It is imagination that brings meaning, purpose, and application to what is learned.
“Imagination for Dewey, explores alternative possibilities for action within a selected context of ongoing activity. Imagination enables the search for ideas that can reconstruct the situation. It takes the context and its data, including emotional sympathetic data, as intuited and determined by selective interests and transforms them into a plan of action, an idea that if acted upon might allow the agent to achieve the desired ideal in reality.” Jim Garrison

Eisner believes in diversity, that this is the key to education and learning and through this provides richness for our culture as well. Continuing in that same line of thought, Maxine Greene educator, philosopher and pioneer sees reality after all as interpreted experience and that to limit learners to a single dominant mode of interpreting their experience may be to frustrate their individual pursuits of meaning and consequently, their desires to come to know, and to learn.
With much of her work is based on the concept of caring, Nel Noddings defines education “as a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation”. Eisner and Barone understand that the aesthetics of experiences is what builds those in our minds and provides the means to imagine and be creative. The concept of Aesthetic Learning and Education is one of understanding, of perception and ultimately of creativity. Eisner looks at teaching as artistry, it is the ability to craft a performance and to provide the students with the mediums and means to perceive and understand their world.
For John Dewey, aesthetic experiences are not confined to high art, but arise from within the interaction of human organisms with their surroundings. Thomas Barone points to Dewey being the primary thinker that envisioned art and aesthetics having a central role in education and in learning. Thomas Barone is concerned as are many other progressive educators with the linear format of traditional education.

“If students are not given access to metaphoric learning activities, if the shape of their learning is always linear and closed, how will their capacity for creativity and invention be developed?” Thomas Barone

Perhaps in my research and reading I am getting a bit over board with Dewey and education but I see tie ins to daily living, to how we respond to others, to what the future holds for us and our grandchildren. If each of us took a bit more time to try and understand why so much of what is going on in society is going on maybe just maybe we could finally realize much of this does not need to be happening. So again after nearly thirteen years of daily writing I ask as I do every morning please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

Bird Droppings June 16, 2013
Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?

The current educational trends are analogous to trying to pour five gallons of material into a liter bottle using a funnel. As you try obliviously a large portion of material spills out and is discarded or lost. I use a liter bottle as my analogy’s container, as a liter is recognized as the standard international metric unit of volume, a universal standard. This symbolism appears to be what is happening in education, an attempt to find that liter bottle in terms of a student’s capabilities, a universal student standard.
In our many of our current public school settings, teachers have been stripped of their individuality and creativity, forced often through coercion to teach specifically to the standardized test and to be sure their students pass the test or face consequences. In an effort to meet federal No Child Left Behind, (NCLB) mandates, curriculum and lesson guidelines are in place in many school settings that are creating a more uniform and categorized package of material that students learn and retain and through this we are losing aspects of children’s identities and individuality as well as the teacher’s creativity, imagination and individuality. Much of this is market driven through publishing companies assisting in developing tests and materials to teach to tests along with texts books aligned with tests. My concern is what is it that we are leaving behind in this rush and push for test results and standardization as we fill that student, that liter bottle. Usually the first thing to go is art and music.
As I began writing the idea of soul which is for me is a crucial aspect of our individuality is being stripped away from children literally through more and more organized and orchestrated emphasis on the test. Most people at first will attribute a religious connotation in when mentioning the idea of soul. I began to review ideas and research from various authors using the concept of soul as the heart of our individuality which provided a point of reference that felt good. I went looking back historically trying to find where the emphasis directed toward improving our scores in standardized tests began and it was during the period of the Cold War, when our attention was turned to beating the Russians that the federal government officially started taking a hand in legislating and pushing for standardized test scores.
The Vietnam War and the social awareness of the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies created a bump in the road for standardized testing and the legislated learning processes however briefly. For a short period of time individuality was the norm again. Unfortunately this backlash only lasted briefly, due in part to the shift in scientific technology’s promoting and pushing of standardized testing, the days of independence were short lived. Today’s students and parents are today taking up the gauntlet again. The activism of the late sixties and early seventies was short lived as pressure for standardization ensued and the effort to teach innovatively became obsolete in many schools. The takeover of education by government state and federal was fully under way and innovation, individuality and the progressivism of John Dewey, a major proponent of individuality in education was being pushed aside.
The individual’s experience and involvement within society was the key to Dewey’s thought and to the educational premises of progressivism. It was tying these experiences to education giving context to the content that Dewey promoted. Dewey was adamant about society and democratic interaction in his pursuits of education. Dewey foresaw the direction our industrial society was headed as legislated and packaged learning began stripping away individuality for the corporate good and currently rather large profits. The goal of society to prepare needed workers and consumers was at a cost and that was losing a part of them as they fall prey to the standardized demands.
Sadly there are alternatives; in a community strength is in the interactions, relationships and implications. Within a school this can be powerful tool. This could be applied in a learning setting borrowing from Foxfire Core Practice three.

“The work teachers and students do together enable learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practices, 2009

Real education is about learning through and of experience. It is learning by doing. It is an environment where each person has input and interaction. This is a democratic classroom and this was developed in the early 1900’s by Dewey and this philosophy is still considered progressive as legislation is pushed for standardization and simplicity in measuring using tests. There is a paradox in this type of education versus the standardized regime that is being imposed through NCLB and other legislated efforts.

“As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself. He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself.“ William Pinar

We as individuals require others in our existence for triangulation as bearings or focal points of who we are. It takes the input of other people for community and democracy to truly work and to develop. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor of sociology, who has made more of an impact on me in the years since as I read his books and contemplated his thoughts. Dr. Campolo points to a growing issue in our culture.

“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our “advanced” capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo

It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the gist of who we are, that inner aspect I will later refer to as soul, getting to know where we are in the world and why. The development and implementation of standardize testing has driven society to using such words as human capital in our viewing of students. Human capital verses human needs I can see why a mother would pull a second grader out of school because of testing.
Education should be an interdisciplinary event. It should be all encompassing, a lived in, a total undertaking. It is not the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ that many traditional teachers and administrators adhere too and legislators want. It is in dealing with more than just us but involving the world and community.

“It is through a concern with problems as they relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom, those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliott Eisner

Looking at our world view and how we communicate that to others and even to ourselves is important. How we go about educating and teaching our children should be a major concern. What they take from a lesson and how they use it in their own lives can be significant if we will provide the capabilities and allow this to happen. Sadly through a concerted effort schools have been stripping away the children’s individuality for the sake of standardization.
For many years now I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal and human being. The idea of spiritual can be simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within. I see education and curriculum in a similar manner, one of sacredness of spiritual fulfillment, more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day, for those in learning focused schools. It is not a static fixed commodity some legislators want for ease of operation and it can change with the group and community that it is operating within.
As I researched and read curriculum theorists, many are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the ‘secret’ that ‘sits in the middle and knows’ – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, 1998

Perhaps it is in our end of course test and graduation test mentality we are setting limits and parameters on our educative process. We have become so normalized through standardization and traditional molds we have become limited in perceiving anything different. Throughout history it has taken holy men and women, sages, and esoteric’s to bring back pieces of what is truly there. It may be that curriculum theory is doing this with education. Bringing back what could be. Trying to keep from children their inner self their individuality is hindering learning and development as a human.
Education and curriculum are alive ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers and school systems presume. Can we look at curriculum and education in such a broad manner encompassing everything about us, our lived experiences, and our curricula vita? It becomes so difficult to be outside the box when everyone else is inside. But for learning to be real and to progress, we as educators have to ruminate and see the more ultimate issues in life. We need to go beyond the content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and put back that idea of democracy and experience that living and life provides, suggested so long ago by Dewey. There is so much more to education and curriculum for teachers to consider than what is written down on paper.

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books. My first principal back in 2001 who by chance was a recent principal of the year in Georgia had a book club for teachers.

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on to the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”. There should not be a limiting to curriculum or to education as so often currently imposed. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching, he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one, 2009

The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces of the individual human being left behind. I would like to be optimistic and say borrowing from the great civil rights leader that as teachers, real teachers, “we shall overcome” and we shall put soul back into the bottle of our children. I got a bit carried away today but continue to keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Is not every day a new journey begun?

Bird Droppings June 14, 2013
Is not every day a new journey begun?

“School divides life into two segments, which are increasingly of comparable length. As much as anything else, schooling implies custodial care for persons who are declared undesirable elsewhere by the simple fact that a school has been built to serve them.” Ivan Illich, 1971

I started my wanderings this morning with this statement from Ivan Illich who was an Austrian philosopher, former Roman Catholic priest, and “maverick social critic” of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects on the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, transportation, and economic development. From my own stand point it was his short book or essay, Deschooling Society, 1971 that caught my attention in an education philosophy class in graduate school almost forty years after he wrote the book.
“Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.” Ivan Illich, 1971

This short book brought Illich to the attention of the general public. I want to emphasize one sentence. “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring” After a couple of weeks of John Dewey and Foxfire I find this very significant. I really like the concept of educational webs. We emphasize in Foxfire teaching the connections made in life and in education. Chief Seattle addresses the web of life and I have used his words often in my writing.

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” Chief Seattle

I find as I ponder teaching, education and learning I continually come back to my father and his impact on my own concept of teaching. I remember all of the acronyms and quick one-liners he would use to emphasize points. As I was thinking it hit me that it is the nearing the sixth anniversary of the last time I spoke with my father. It was June 27, 2007 and I had dropped off some medicine at my parent’s home and spoke with my mother for a few minutes. Two of my nieces were there with my dad standing by his bed as I went in. He lay still not moving my mother said he has been like this now for some time. It was hard leaving and going to my next stop of the day. A feeling of apprehension seemed to carry with me. But there were other stops other pieces to that day’s journey I needed to make.
I drove down to Oxford Georgia after leaving to watch the talent show of my youngest son’s choir camp. My wife stayed home as she was tired from a hard day at work and she had to make several follow up calls and wanted to watch a show she had missed previously. I stopped and picked up a water bottle for the journey, I only drank Evian back then more recently switching to Smart water liters as they fit in car drink holders. Fortunately that is about my only idiosyncrasy. As I headed from my parent’s home just before dusk almost on the county line a dead tree trunk stark white against the darkening surroundings was to my left as I drove by. Stark and free from bark it was white in the waning hour. Atop the tree in the highest possible point sat two red tailed hawks. Watching me as I drove by, I thought having my camera what a picture, this could be one for National Geographic. But as instantly as the image presented itself it was gone in the speed of the car driving along and by that time I had reached my destination. In Native American thought often animals are linked to us in a special way and provide us with bits and pieces of what we need as we travel in life. Sometimes a boost seeing a hawk fly by just as you are driving or walking outside. It could be a deer standing watching as you drive away almost seeing through you.
I arrived just before the program started and have always enjoyed the Emory at Oxford campus of Emory University I walked around a bit. The grounds date back to early 1800’s and exotic trees and shrubs abound. I listened to a talented group of young people my son included as he did his now world famous rendition of Axel Rose and Bob Dylan singing a duet on that famous tune “Knocking on Heavens Door”. The song stuck with me as I drove away after the program. Bob Dylan wrote the song many years ago featured in the movie Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett in 1973.

Mama take this badge from me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s getting dark too dark to see
Feels like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door

I came home and sat talking and watching TV with my oldest son. They tend to stay up longer than me on almost every night. I told him how his brother played his duet again. It is sort of hard to explain as he comes out as Axel Rose of Guns and Roses fame and Bob Dylan at the same time. But the words hung with me as I continued my journey into night, falling asleep. Around two in the morning I had a one dog night and funny it was because she was hungry. There is nothing like a dog chewing dry dog food at two in the morning.
I got up with my wife fully intending to get started on graduate school work I needed to be working on and walked around turning out lights finding my chair in the dark I thought my oldest son had work this morning so I thought I would wake him up and he walked by. I had several vivid dreams over the last two hours waking up as my son came by. I emailed a friend that knew my son and had been a member of the Choir Camp for many years till graduating from high school and heading to college. I for some reason went and picked up my phone all I heard was “he is gone”.
I thought I responded and talked a few minutes and called my oldest and wife to let them know my dad had passed away. I walked into my middle son’s room and told him. This was around eight o’clock in the morning June 28th. I walked out to my quiet spot among some young pecan trees and thought, listened and pondered for a few minutes. I enjoyed the smell of sage and sweet grass as the wisps of smoke rose in a morning air. Life is a circle I thought looking at some river stones I had gathered from a special stream for me in North Georgia that I had previously placed on the ground in a circle medicine wheel some might say when we first moved to this spot.
I told my son I was heading to town to get mail and such and drove off. Around ten thirty my mother called and asked if I got the message she left. I said no I talked to you earlier you said dad had passed away. She informed me she did not talk to me. I told her I would be over shortly and she was fine. It is strange how we respond as we consider all events all happenings and see that truly life is a circle a simple circle. No beginning and no end as we journey. We get to participate along the way interconnecting and meeting people. We gain understanding and wisdom as we travel this circle and for some most I would say the transitional points are painful and yet for others wondrous moments and new journeys. My father had told me numerous times he had done what he needed to do here and was ready. He passed away in his sleep content that he had been a great father, grandfather and great grandfather as well as teacher, author, thinker and innovator in Industrial Loss Control management. There are many who knew him over the years from Scouting, Church, Red Cross, Safety and Loss Control, and all were his dear friends. Each has stories to tell of pieces of my father’s puzzle.
“Knocking on heaven’s door” keeps resounding as I recall my sons singing that night six years ago and it was so many years ago another son left me a note after sitting all night with a teenager who had been in a car wreck “Life is about the journey not the destination”, a line from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. I thought back again to May of 2007 with my father in law passed away and a student who I considered a dear friend as well and then my dad. I mentioned to my wife last evening that wisdom comes with experience and time. There is a new journey a new day I wish all well on their journeys and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts. Peace to my father and all of my friends and please always give thanks namaste.

For all of my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering and reflecting all in a few minutes?

Bird Droppings June 13, 2013
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
and reflecting all in a few minutes?

I drove to south east Georgia for a trip over four years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was basically a follow-up face to face with my committee of professors and in turn responding to my three written questions which were answered in a minimum of fifteen page papers my total was closer to eighty or so. I always enjoyed the drive down generally always going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make one is a Georgia native plant nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none.
I got to Statesboro Georgia about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday so several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town. I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept little anticipating my oral exam the next morning. Much of my discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference and we discussed the right and left wings of education which has been heavy on my mind in recent days.
I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses up in Mountain City on the Foxfire property I often find myself on the outside of discussions as so many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. In talking with others the past few days I found my success and lack of success was being equated on whether I am following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, for ten years in a resource room all day and now only in co-teaching. I had never more than seven students in resource and often that seven were all emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required more attention. In shifting to co-teaching now the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.
I have been evaluated all year by an administrator who sees education for the first time in many years very similar to how see education. Special education is anything but black and white and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations this past year have been excellent and after an initial shock of changing rooms after ten years I feel good about the year. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes this past year especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the training program up in the mountains I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it one teacher without just teaching to test does well? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?
Over the past year in Atlanta’s main paper numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators and teachers were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.
In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? Recently on a first administration the particular math test had literally no one passing. How can a specific grade test over a given grade subject curriculum be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session be a measure of what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing about.
As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire and now new teachers learning about this idea for my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in the program nearly forty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talk about lifelong learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this.
It was refreshing in my exam now four years ago to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam and now in my procrastination move to another stage in my doctorate. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. Could be the mountain air I am looking forward too is getting to me and or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Should not a teacher be allowed a recharge? Keeping the energy flowing is crucial

Bird Droppings June 12, 2013
Should not a teacher be allowed a recharge?
Keeping the energy flowing is crucial

I attend and offer my two cents at two and sometimes three Foxfire Approach to Teaching Courses a year put on by Piedmont College for graduate students and teachers already in the classroom in Mountain City Georgia. This course is an elective graduate class of Piedmont College’s Education Department. Monday afternoon as I made my way home in the pouring rain I was as always invigorated by the discussion and interactions of teachers and teachers to be. The experience with Foxfire for me is almost addicting. Within the course we talk about the positive aspects and negative pieces as well as we look at the Foxfire Core Practices. I always feel good that the negative are mostly personality conflicts within various small groups and not something within the program. As always I come away excited about teaching and education as well and couple that with the many new friends made during the couple of days I am involved and the potential networking group of teachers to bounce ideas off it is a great experience. Two years ago as the students finished their final assessment of the program and turned them in Dr. Hilton Smith handed each a piece of paper. My first thought was they are getting a Foxfire course completion certificate. Later as we were leaving Sara, Hilton’s wife and often co-teacher handed a sheet to me and said I might enjoy the thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find it interesting in this research based educational system we exist in that a proven non-reliable source is being used to evaluate teachers along with test scores that are used in Georgia which are basically tests of what a student knows at that moment not what they have learned. That is leaving out a crucial piece, for example with students that have a State End of Course Test in their class that test counts twenty percent of their final grade and we say try and not teach to the test.
Perhaps in my zeal from having been to and going back to Foxfire classes I am back to my forty plus year suggestion to have an effective tool to evaluate teachers. I watch teachers who are borrowing from so many educators and authors just taking up space and biding time till retirement who get laudatory evaluations every year. I see teachers who are perhaps the best at what they do having difficulty because they disagree with an administrator on how children learn. Each day as my summer progresses I find myself seeking this question of how do we inspire teachers and most of all how do we inspire students to desire to learn? I have wandered around today but as I do each day please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
Bird