Why do we fail?

Bird Droppings August 31, 2013
Why do we fail?

Many the times, I have wondered why people stop learning. I see it in high school students, in college and in graduate students. Almost as if a switch is thrown and poof no more learning I have reached my limit. I had a teacher approach before school started the other day about a student who scored a seventeen on a quiz. The student’s parents were asking for a retake and study guide which the teacher was complaining about doing. The student got a seventeen he deserved a seventeen period. Where is the learning curve giving a failing grade is not a motivator for many students who by high school are used to that and could care less. Achieving a passing grade by learning what is on the quiz and then retaking and passing is what school should be about.

“One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” John W. Gardner

I began the morning looking through several articles written by William Edelen, a former pastor and fighter pilot, as well as several by Arthur Schopenhauer, an 19th century philosopher, and Joseph Campbell, a leading writer on mythology. Somehow in my reading earlier I ended up back on articles by John Gardner. I have been struggling with the idea of why students quit learning. On a recent excursion to Wal-Mart I ran into several former students who had all quit school. One of the former students shook my hand and said he was working on his GED and working hard. The other student said he was working hard doing foundations for houses and raising his new baby. Still another was arguing with her boyfriend across the aisles at Wal-Mart.
I thought back in each of their lives. All failed in part or all of graduation tests in high school, one of the students had failed one a portion three times by a total of eight points as a result she did not graduate and she opted to get a GED. She was tired of failing or risking failing again.

“I have always felt that although someone may defeat me, and I strike out in a ball game, the pitcher on the particular day was the best player. But I know when I see him again; I’m going to be ready for his curve ball. Failure is a part of success. There is no such thing as a bed of roses all your life. But failure will never stand in the way of success if you learn from it.” Hank Aaron

For so many of us we take defeat failure in stride and move on, but for some students failure is a daily event and eventually they succumb and lose whatever desire to succeed they may have had.

“You win only if you aren’t afraid to lose.” Rocky Aoki

“No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.” Amar Gopal Bose

Amazing how this is so similar as I think back on life to my own experiences in fourth grade. I had a teacher who was grading me harder than those around me. I think she thought I wouldn’t notice. My friend next to me had two wrong and an A. I had two wrong and a C. My mother asked and the teacher stated I wasn’t working up to my ability so she was grading harder than other students. I quit trying in school for some time, until about two years into college.
“Failure does not count. If you accept this, you’ll be successful. What causes most people to fail is that after one failure, they’ll stop trying.” Frank Burford

“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” George Washington Carver

We set in motion at young ages the ability to succeed and or the ability to make excuses. Watching kids grow up and looking at where they learn. Example is the best teacher and they watch parents. If we make excuses and choose to not succeed what are the odds our children will succeed

“A man’s life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it’s a sign that he tried to surpass himself.” Georges Clemenceau

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” Edwin Louis Cole

I think back to walking through the Edison museum in Fort Myers Florida and one particular exhibit, it is a barrel of light bulbs all failures and the plague reads it took over 10,000 failures to succeed but it did work. As I went further and read Coles thought about drowning and was applying it to students. Many have given up because the school and society has given up. As soon as you take statistics in college you gather data and sort and develop graphs and charts about who will succeed and who will fail and soon students know your thoughts and soon students live up to their graphs and charts.

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying that they will not tolerate failure. But it represents a hollow promise. Far from improving education, high- stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, from accuracy, from quality, and from equity.” Sen. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

Alfie Kohn’s starts his website with:

“Rescuing our schools from tougher standards”. The statement of “Learning by doing”, which is a common shorthand for the idea that active participation helps students to understand ideas or acquire skills, is an established principle of progressive education. Much less attention, however, has been paid to the complementary possibility that teachers are most effective when they show rather than just tell. In fact, this idea doesn’t even seem to have a name so let’s call it “teaching by doing” (TBD).”

“We need to learn from— and, fittingly, to challenge — one another’s ideas. But most important is a basic commitment to make sure that our students — future teachers, parents, and citizens — are able and willing to take a stand.” Alfie Kohn, Challenging Students . . . And How to Have More of Them

Alfie Kohn has been writing about issues in public school for the past few years, he is a major proponent of public schools. It is how we teach he is trying to address, and instilling a desire to learn rather than taking away that aspect. It is about promoting success rather than failure that we need to strive for in our endeavors as teachers and parents. Hopefully one day when I go to Wal-Mart the students approaching me will be all talking of success and their futures. Please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

If only we can make a difference

Bird Droppings August 29, 2013
If only we can make a difference

I walked out last night to a partial moon it was exceptionally warm with the high humidity which has become the norm. However between the clouds I did see a jet stream that was perfectly in line with what I could see of the moon almost as if a line was drawn and the moon was moving along the line among the clouds. When I come out in the early morning hours and look East Orion sits just above the persimmon trees and today the moon was nearly sitting on Orion’s belt. I think Orion has been checking out the persimmons or since a hunter watching for the deer that come to feast on the ripe fruit falling to the ground.

“The purpose of Living Values: Educational Program is to provide guiding principles and tools for the development of the whole person, recognizing that the individual is comprised of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.” livingvalues.net

When I first read the lead line to this website it is too good to be true, someone after my own heart. As I thought it is not just about content but context as well although in public school spiritual has to be a carefully handled word. Yesterday as I do many days I borrowed from John Dewey’s pedagogy and this is a similar line looking more at the whole person in talking with some teachers during professional planning.

“In confronting the many challenges that the future holds in store, humankind sees in education an indispensable asset in its attempt to attain the ideals of peace, freedom and social justice. The Commission does not see education as a miracle cure or a magic formula opening the door to a world in which all ideals will be attained, but as one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war.” Jacques Delors, Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO

ALIVE, The association for Living values Education International was founded by the United Nations a few years ago. As I read through the literature the concept of teaching values intrigued me. Is this maybe where we go wrong in public school focusing on the content within the curriculum covered on pages one through five hundred only? Maybe this is where students lose the desire to learn being force fed piles of facts or does it happen elsewhere.

“The traditions of our people are handed down from father to son. The Chief is considered to be the most learned, and the leader of the tribe. The Doctor, however, is thought to have more inspiration. He is supposed to be in communion with spirits… He cures the sick by the laying of hands, and payers and incantations and heavenly songs. He infuses new life into the patient, and performs most wonderful feats of skill in his practice…. He clothes himself in the skins of young innocent animals, such as the fawn, and decorated himself with the plumage of harmless birds, such as the dove and hummingbird …” Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute

Much of our culture, our who we are, is learned behavior from our community setting. We learn much of who we are good or bad at home. Several years ago I wrote a paper about “The Sixteen Hour Syndrome” that time kids are away from school. As a parent teacher and now grandparent I see students leave school and go home where any semblance of value and order is disavowed. Students were unlearning literally anything that had been taught. Teachers have eight hours of which transportation and breaks and lunch come out of so maybe six hours to try and instill values and information. Some could argue that should school be the place for values to be taught? It is a place and teaching is occurring so do what you can.

“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” Fredrich Nietzsche

“You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.” Denis Waitley

Students theoretically should bring some tattering of values to school but going back to September 11, 2001 which coincidentally was my first day back to teaching after a twenty three year break a student informed me he was the first in four generations not to run moonshine. Interestingly enough last night on the history channel a show memorialized moonshiners as an integral part of our history and that we had to have them in order for a progression to occur. This was while the host sampled various brews from around the country. If you are raised that moonshining, racism, bigotry, anti-government and a good one today belittling women is appropriate. Now then imagine the impact of those eight hours in school with a female teacher who by chance works for the government and doesn’t drink. After battling with that type of student, teachers are weary and they are not just in the south. So the issue becomes how do we as teachers even attempt to alter values.

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Albert Einstein

“Although gold dust is precious, when it gets in your eyes it obstructs your vision.” Hsi-Tang

In many societies the raising of the children is a community effort not just the biological parents. We all need to work together be it in parenting and in teaching and in working towards a world we can eliminate the sixteen hour syndrome and children can learn to appreciate life and all that could be there for them.

“Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.” Thomas Dewey

Perhaps that leads to this idea. The other aspect is that in order to open properly that parachute has to be packed correctly folded and arranged so it will open when the rip cord is pulled. Far too many children have not had their parachute folded properly before the jump and will crash and burn. As I look back over the past few weeks of school and writings teachers are expected to check the parachutes and repack daily. Teachers are expected often times to even postpone the jumps till everyone is ready. But in life as in parachuting there comes a time when you have to learn to pack your own chute. When it doesn’t open it is no one’s fault but your own.

“If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he entitled to happiness? You must first have a lot of patience to learn to have patience.” Stanislaw Jerszy Lec, Unkempt Thoughts, translated from the Polish by Jacek Galazka

As I read a few of Lec’s words this morning many are dark foreboding telling of a time when death was near the door step in Poland during World War II. Executioners and death are a major topic looking through Unkempt Thoughts a rather large collection of anecdotes. But when I saw these particular two lines the first is so true of education we pass the child through knowing he cannot “count” are we truly happy when he finds a four leave clover and patience is learned but it does take patience to learn patience otherwise you would have run out of patience. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and please let’s make sure parachutes are packed right for that first jump and always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

A spiritual side to teaching

Bird Droppings August 28, 2013
A spiritual side to teaching

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it’s never living apart from one’s self. Not about absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.” Parker Palmer

Dr. Parker Palmer is an innovator, speaker, retreat leader, author, and traveling teacher. He is a senior associate of the American Association for Higher Education and senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute. Parker Palmer received his Ph.D. from the University of California. I was first introduced to his writing in 2001 by a friend who happened to be my principal at the time. He recommended his book, The courage to Teach, to me and I have given away several copies now over the years.

“Teachers choose their vocation for reasons of the heart, because they care deeply about their students and their subject. But the demands of teaching cause too many educators to lose heart. Is it possible to take heart in teaching once more so that we can continue to do what teachers always do – give heart to our students.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have been back in teaching thirteen years and have watched teachers burn out and simply fizzle out. There is a slight bit of difference between burn and fizzle. Someone who burns out is putting there all into what they do and someone who fizzles out is taking up space and probably should not have been there to begin with. I have watched creative teachers starting out like gang busters succumb to teaching blues and boredom. They come in full of zeal and within a semester are borrowing premade transparencies from their next door neighbor because they do not have the time anymore to create new ones.

“Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and in the process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.” Parker Palmer

I have for many years considered teaching an art form. I do think it is a place where a person’s soul is bared for better or worse as you teach whatever subject you happened to be teaching. If you truly want to connect with your students you open your heart as palmer indicates and this is difficult for many to do. I honestly think it takes a special person to be a good and effective teacher. Parker Palmer in his writing discusses how teaching is a community effort. My thoughts reflect back to John Dewey and his revelations of education as a social event and more critically a necessity.

“As I make the case that good teaching is always and essentially communal, I am not abandoning my claim that teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Community, or connectedness, is the principle behind good teaching, but different teachers with different gifts create community in surprisingly diverse ways, using widely divergent methods.” Parker Palmer
In my own journeys in life and I use a word whose connotation is plural discussing my journeys in life since I have been in several directions prior to where I am now. I have found that it is in happiness and solace we find peace with ourselves. The quote I started with today reflects on solitude which for me is a few moments each day in a spot I have selected away from the house with a view across a large pasture. I can sit and reflect on my day or my day ahead and I ponder sitting listening to the sounds about me. I claim this spot as sacred and some will scuff how you can say that, it does not have a church or any religious affiliation. I titled my writing today as a spiritual side to teaching and these two words for me intertwine as I look at them and ponder further.

“Sacred means, quite simply, worthy of respect.” Parker Palmer

In the several years that I have come back to teaching it has been about respect and trust. I have gone about this through building relationships with students. In my own opinion that is one of the most critical aspects of the teaching process. It is not simply a curriculum and a book or several books, it is relationships. I see what I do each day as a spiritual endeavor bringing new ideas to students who may not have had the chance previously to understand or even experience in any way this knowledge. It was nearly thirteen years since I wrote a trust scale for a human development course I was taking. It follows along a similar concept that I had read about in Dr. James Fowler’s book, The Development of Faith. We start out as totally trusting and soon learn not to trust and eventually return to a total trust. It takes good and great teachers to help along the way. Thinking about a new week ahead and few days left in this week the positive and negative that will come my way. I tend to choose to embrace the positive and not spend as much time considering the negative. I do hope each of you can take a moment to reflect and to 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

A final look at essential Bird Pedagogy

Bird Droppings August 27, 2013
A final look at essential Bird Pedagogy

It was three years ago I was reading an article actually an interview with Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. I selected a few choice quotes from his interview to savor and ponder for a few days. As I look at the words he said and his follow through with his actions we can see where he really thinks education should be. I have long argued that sports should not be priority number one in high school and in colleges but who am I to challenge the status quo. Football ticket sales and all the hoopla surrounding sports is big money. With Duncan’s emphasis more recently on a push to private industry in public education I found his words a bit confusing. At first I truly liked this statement and yet since these words were let loose he has gone three hundred and sixty degrees in another direction and supports in actions the making of money.

“If a university can’t have two out of five of their student-athletes graduate, I don’t know why they’re rewarded with post-season play” Arne Duncan

Over the past few days I have been looking at how I see teaching and instruction and I have wandered about a bit in my efforts. My own style is somewhat radical to say the least. However in thirteen years my craziness has worked with kids who are not supposed to graduate or succeed according to most. I happen to see this line from Arne Duncan our Secretary of Education and it is amazing how we provide a sense of falsehood through athletics. I am not saying all athletes are poor students by any means. I know many who are honor graduates and scholars in their own right. The greed and competition however at a college level becomes significant. A local college at home games can bring millions to the economy. Many staunch fans never went to college anywhere yet have season tickets and trucks colored in that schools colors and even have the same animal as a pet as the local mascot. A good college football or basketball program is a business not a learning program.

“I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful.’ Arne Duncan

Not every child should be going to college and why we have to advertise and promote this concept I honestly do not know. In a recent faculty meeting our superintendent discussed the excessively high dropout rate of freshmen. When you have an attitude of sending everyone to college those who really do not want to be there quit that first year. We have eliminated technical training in many high schools ours included in favor of everyone goes to college. This trend ties in with our role in international education as well. We constantly hear on the news how we are behind in education other international programs and countries. Let me start with one of the measures which is the PISA, The Program for International Student Assessment. In 2006 we the USA were ranked fifteenth. I have never heard of or seen this test administered in Georgia. It is a two hour test, multiple choice and essay. It is given every three years to rank countries internationally. Australia is ranked fourth. There are differences between us and them and significant differences. It was 1992 till Australia started inclusion into public schools for disabled students versus 1974 in the US. However there is still a distinct difference between US and literally most of the world in terms of education. Our test scores for example as per NCLB include Students With Disabilities SWD as a subgroup and they are included in final tally of population. A 2% allowance is made for Mentally Impaired students in the total population. Australia in scoring on High School tests etc. does not include SWD in totals as European and Asian Schools do not include either. Most international school systems have in pace a mandatory age cut off 15-17 depending on the territory for example in in Australia. At that point choices are made and or mandated as to higher education technical and or college and or go to work. Throughout Asia this is common practice as it is in many European educational systems.

“If you have great assessments and real-time data for teachers and parents that say these are [the student’s] strengths and weaknesses, that’s a real healthy thing.” Arne Duncan

‎”We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning. We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason. We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks the end or a conclusion of something, and the learner is only interested in continuing the process of learning.”

In the words of the two educators above there are totally differing views. I agree with several of my friends that on some concepts Carl Rogers can be a bit off the deep end to a degree. But on this aspect I agree with him that competition as far as learning goes be that grades, test scores, can be inconsequential as to, is learning occurring. This would lead to another line from David Purpel yesterday that truly hit me hard.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

We have stripped away that aspect of community from schools in order to have a clear cut and definite number to score and equate whatever it is we are wanting to measure in theory. One of the first things I learned in statistics is that they are at the mercy of the statistician. We can make numbers do whatever we want. Politicians like numbers and test scores and simply things so they can make policy and award lobbyists with nice contracts. Interesting how most educational research that is cited by the National Clearing house for research based materials is primarily one hundred percent publishing and testing company’s research. Much of this is very limited demographically and in a true research situation would not be valid. Significant dollars are involved however but that might be for another discussion, which sort of ties in with my idea of, is there ethical capitalism? Sadly industrial mentalities and capitalism drive education in US. Mass production testing and text book companies rule along with various support industries.

“I know there are schools that are beating the odds where students are getting better every year, and they are labeled failures, and that can be discouraging and demoralizing,” Arne Duncan

I continue to try and understand how when students are doing better year after year they are a failure. As for US schools being behind are they really? All US schools in all states we are mandated through NCLB to have an exit exam that is within certain parameters for graduation and if not passed student does not receive a high school degree. This consists of Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science portions in the state of Georgia. Many subjects have End of Course Tests again here in Georgia. Even with this series of tests at our high school we have managed to raise graduation rate at our school from 71% to 92% over a five year period. Sadly this comes at the expense of real learning and the idea of teaching to the test is more than a catch word. Teacher’s jobs administrator’s jobs are tied to test scores and funding and state and federal intervention as well. I am not happy with the USA educational system as I am a supporter of students and learning which are totally being left behind in this numerical accountability competitive system.

“We are proceeding on with the intent of the Landmark – Leave No Child Behind Reform Act without political persuasion. The focus is effective delivery of services in education by review, restructure, implementation for maximum student learning.” Arne Duncan

Arne perhaps used some words wrong here. It should have read for maximum student’s success in testing not in learning.
I have taught in different parts of Georgia and in Pa. briefly and while many will say education is not as difficult as in previous generations all I can say is pull a high school or college biology book off the shelf dust it off and compare to a biology book today. The cellular material is years beyond my freshmen college and even zoology and botany books of 1968 and 1969. Not just the research gains but vocabulary and demands of material are voluminous compared to what we had in high school. Our system is flawed and it will take radical thinking I tend to believe more toward Foxfire core practices and John Dewey’s ideas and Carl Rogers because some of his thoughts are good.

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research –neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my own direct experience. My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.” Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” Carl Rogers

As I close looking back on where and when and how I am still within my own learning searching for what is my pedagogy. It is a continual fluid moving process as I teach and learn each day. I can say I am inclined to think this way but only till a better way comes along. With a morning nearing end and new week ahead please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Could there be such a thing as Essential Education?

Bird Droppings August 26, 2013
Could there be such a thing as Essential Education?

It has been almost two years since I was discussing various educational philosophies and pedagogies with my son. One happened to be essential education which per his text is only a slight step from perennial education which basically is reading, writing and arithmetic period. There is little if any art or music what so ever. As I looked through my files an author popped up who dabbled in or wrote the book on essential education, Ted Sizer.

“Pedagogy logically is a subject for which schools of education are – or should be – responsible. It all depends; of course, on how those schools define pedagogical skill. Is pedagogy merely the training necessary to contribute to a penny-bank system of schooling? Is teaching more a science than an art? Is sophisticated teaching the instruction of ideas and skills, matters of speaking and telling? That is, can we describe the steps a teacher must make, ultimately as a matter of habit, in enough detail to allow careful testing to determine whether the work has succeeded? To my eye, teaching – pedagogy – is an art … a demanding art. There is science to it (just as with painting) but also style, the quality of a person’s actions whether that person is fifteen or fifty. Getting others to learn, which includes helping them acquire skills, is a subtle, complex business… Pedagogy depends on a teacher’s character, his experience, his willingness to examine what is going on in his classes and to test his judgments against those of others. It requires self-confidence and a willingness to listen to the view of others. Those of us in education must accept this inevitable fuzziness and learn how to live with it as artists do.” Ted Sizer

A friend posted a link to a blog that happened to have this quote yesterday and attached to my Facebook page that is synchronistic. As I looked further in my various articles and readings this version of essential education is a bit more than what my son’s text from two years ago implied. There are several very good ideas in terms of education and learning in the programing at the Tara Redwood School.

Essential Education Pedagogy
The pedagogy developed by Tara Redwood School and Essential Education includes the following:
• Knowledge of the inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions is as important as knowledge of the outer world
• An integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning is preferable to one that fragments and divides knowledge
• Individuals often have dramatically different learning styles; all learning styles are valid and must be both acknowledged and nurtured.
• Learning rooted in direct experience far surpasses in depth and endurance learning by indirect methods
• Generally accepted subject matter can be enhanced by integrating a Essential Education approach and accompanying methods and techniques
• The intuitive wisdom of the individual can be developed by dialectical discussion and debate exploring philosophical, spiritual and moral themes.
Tara Redwood School. 5810 Prescott Road. Soquel, CA

Sitting here thinking about a specific definitive pedagogy and I am one who seldom uses the word many thoughts. Over the past few years I have been exploring my own ideas of what is pedagogy and how I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers who was controversial in 1968 and his ideas still are considered perhaps utopian to borrow a few words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found as so many aspects of how I view teaching are themselves controversial as well. I have borrowed over the last several days from John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, Foxfire and today the Tara Redwood School. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations. Having for most of my life being involved directly or indirectly with in working with and teaching exceptional children and adults I am always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas. I tend to stick with things that work well and always are tuning those ideas that I do use.
I mentioned my use of the Foxfire Core Practices and tools such as a trust scale I developed back in 2003. Numerous times I have brought up my use of animals in my classroom and addressed the impact that being involved with snakes for example has on attitudes and especially on developing trust with students. I do believe relationships are a key to teaching building and maintaining positive relationships with students can open doors to learning.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

In our world of accountability in education test scores rule. With the factory oriented mentality leading the way in teaching many do not allow time for relationships and or care to have that as an aspect of who they are as a teacher. John Dewey over and over again emphasizes community as a key in building an effective learning situation.

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

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core
Practice two

“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 Practice three

Foxfire is based on working together and involving the community of the school it is about building and establishing relationships and I have found in my research long lasting relationships between students and teachers. Part of my own approach has been using Facebook as an extension of my class room. Many photos from school events are posted as well as my own daily journaling. Occasionally a former student will send a note thank you for the thoughts or just what I needed today. Recently one of those notes was from a student from eleven years ago when I first came back to teaching.

“Critical pedagogy considers how education can provide individuals with the tools to better themselves and strengthen democracy, to create a more egalitarian and just society, and thus to deploy education in a process of progressive social change. “ 21st Century Schools

As I was reading various articles and papers this morning John Dewey again is continually through the pages of critical pedagogy, experiential learning and Foxfire. Much like in so many other theorists and practitioners works Dewey seems to crop up. When I read this short note from 21st Century Schools about Critical Pedagogy several key elements caught my attention. Education strengthening democracy and social change almost directly parallels John Dewey.

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

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

As I wonder about how should we really be teaching children I keep coming back to providing context for the content. With accelerated lesson plans and curriculum maps and everybody trying to attain a one hundred percent pass rate on the various tests that we are mandated to give to students in Georgia and across the nation little time is left for context. We are leaving the most valuable learning by the wayside in order to get the quick score on a test. I end each day with please lets us keep all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts. As I am pondering maybe we should include children subjected to a battery of standardized tests that do little more than provide the numbers David Purpel writes about but within all of this still remember to give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird

Trying to teach an unteachable child

Bird Droppings August 23, 2013
Trying to teach an unteachable child

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

As I left the house today stars greeted me for the first time in some while. A near full moon blaring away and Orion was shining over the pines somewhere to the southeast. My mind was filled with many thoughts grandkids, graduate school, graduation tests, grading papers and how to deal with some students. I was working with some young people yesterday when one who continually has been a problem for various teachers was acting out. It was easy, far too easy to see the behaviors he was demonstrating than to look past to any possible ability at the time. As I pondered with him during class as to what to do it kept coming back to find the positive aspects of this young man rather than the very obvious negative, reinforce the positive.

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotle

“Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion.” Allan Bloom

We met for a faculty meeting a few weeks back and one of the topics was the Governors Honors program which is six weeks during the summer for top students. My son was privileged to go about ten years ago. When he came back he had a great difficulty dealing with students who did not want to learn. After spending a summer with peers who literally learned on their own and sought additional learning to come back to school where many students simply ride the waves and basically are just there, even in honors classes was hard. My oldest son in his capstone presentation used the example of showing our passion for our profession or subject as a means of instilling in students a passion for learning. Far too quickly we write off so many students as unable to learn or mediocre. He had been having some issues with students in his classes and I told him take in a snake. He needed a reason and finally he figured enzymes. Long story and biological but he took in some snakes and the principal came by to see the demonstration and loved it as did it engaged and enthrall the students, hook, line and sinker.

“Getting things done is not always what is most important. There is value in allowing others to learn, even if the task is not accomplished as quickly, efficiently or effectively.” R. D. Clyde

“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” Edward Everett

It is difficult to try and inspire those who prefer ignorance to education those people who are content in life being unaware. I often joke that you could go all day in a high school with seven or eight words. If you actually listen many teenagers can communicate with a few statements and words and literally you could walk through any high school in America and use those few phrases and words and communicate all day long. Unfortunately most perpetuate ambiguousness, my favorite is whatever, used perhaps more in a day than any other word in the English language at least in high school.

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

“What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed and paralyzed so that by the time most people are mature they have lost their innate capabilities.” R. Buckmaster Fuller

So often we discourage rather than encourage often due to behavior as I think back to my incident yesterday and a student who was acting out. My first reaction was to get rid of him, get him out of the class and I am someone with a behavior disorder background. Maybe in my old age I am taking the easy way out. I would march him down to the administrator and be done with it. The student did not want to learn and did not want to be in school. His attitude was “I am only here for insurance if I am not in school I do not get covered”. It is an interesting enough thought process to understand the reality of the world. So this student is in effect stuck somewhere where he doesn’t want to be yet currently not willing to learn.

“We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.” David P. Garner

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

“If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” John W. Gardner

One of the great thinkers and reformers of education and society of the last one hundred years John Garner saw aspiration in students and in society.

“Josh Billings said, ‘It is not only the most difficult thing to know oneself, but the most inconvenient one, too.’ Human beings have always employed an enormous variety of clever devices for running away from themselves, and the modern world is particularly rich in such stratagems.” John W. Gardner

As I think back to my problem student, was his behavior an act of escaping from who he is and from where he is or was in life? We could get into a deep discussion of this rationale of why kids are in school and if we include the students we may be able to find the antecedent to the actual behaviors.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

I got into a discussion after our faculty meeting with another teacher are we truly educating students, are we preparing them for what they may encounter in the real world. We bantered about ideas back and forth and constructivism kept popping up in my mind.

“Constructivism is a philosophy of learning founded on the premise that, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in. Each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models,” which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is simply the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.” Engaging Kids, Funderstanding http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm

Recalling John Dewey’s lab school and the idea you cannot learn about something truly learn without doing it as Dewey would say. In discussing with this teacher we drew a similar conclusion it takes hands on for students to learn beyond simply pouring facts into the mold. Going back to my problem student of yesterday perhaps looking at where was he coming from and where did he want to go and why and accentuating those issues would provide a pathway for him. Each day is a new day and each thought adds to the thought pool and process, it is about lifting up rather than tearing down. Today please 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

The next great teacher: A new reality show with significance

Bird Droppings August 22, 2013
The next great teacher: A new reality show with significance

I drove back to school about nine o’clock last night to run some copies and check on a few things. Walking out of the building the moon was glowing through a patch work of clouds. I did not have my camera and decided to wait till morning when I take the dog out. Earlier this morning I was sitting mesmerized by the night sounds as I took our dog out and sadly the moon was nearly gone for the night. My wife had let her favorite show on the TV and at one this morning it was still playing waking me up so I wandered outside. It was an exceptionally human intrusion on a quiet night. There were few human influenced noises present. I found myself thinking, wondering if this is what it sounded like hundreds of years ago only crickets, frogs, owls, and a heavy dew and rainwater dripping from pine needles.

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

Our federal education program No Child Left behind is about lifting standards higher to make the United States number one in education. Interesting concept if you have the most rigorous rules does that make you the best school system or educational program? In news recently the idea of raising the bar in our educational process was suggested, we need more students to succeed so we will raise the standards. So to say raise the bar educationally; the theory is that more students will succeed with higher standards for teachers and students. However changing of teaching methods, changing delivery, and even changing standards does not raise the ability or desire of any student.
I can’t help but think of high jumping when the idea of raising the bar came up. Let us say acceptable is currently thirty six inches and tomorrow we will raise the bar to sixty inches and you will succeed because we have a new way of telling you how to jump. We use a megaphone now just as you jump and yell “NOW JUMP”. Interesting in this little exercise which is akin to many educational programs that are being undertaken more now do not succeed than before. Before raising the standard did we look at why the students couldn’t clear thirty six inches?
Was it the teaching method, or the physical ability of the students, was it the shoes they are wearing, perhaps the surface of the run way to the jump pit is too soft or slippery, is there a wind that knocks the bar off as they approach. Basically in any type of medium if a person cannot jump thirty six inches moving to sixty inches will only assure failure. However with practice and time sixty inches is possible, but several factors have to be in place and a key one is the desire and attitude of the person doing the jumping. The coach can be the greatest in the world but if the student is content with failure, they will fail.
It has been a few years since I watched the induction of John Madden into the NFL hall of fame. He has been one of my favorite commentators and coaches of all time.

“Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to see and listen to what they don’t want to hear.” John Madden

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Ara Parasheghan

Coaching and teaching, the terms are often synonymous in many ways. It was a number of years ago I raised and showed horses. I had a very good Appaloosa gelding we affectionately called “Spot”. When I was riding Spot we would be third or fourth but always place. When my trainer was on board Spot would win. I once asked a nationally known trainer and horse judge about this phenomenon and was told.

“You put a ten horse, and by ten I mean on a scale from 1-10 out with a 1 rider again on a scale of 1-10 and you have a 5 ride. However you put a 10 horse and 10 rider out and what are your odds” Nationally acclaimed trainer and judge of Appaloosa and Quarter horses Earl Burchett

As I thought of my horse days quote, teaching and coaching are similar. A good teacher can get more out of a poor functioning group of students and a poor teacher will get something out of great students. For thirty five years I have asked how do we distinguish that good teacher and or coach from a mediocre one.

“Success is not forever and failure isn’t fatal.” Don Shula

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Vince Lombardi

Commitment is a key word in selecting a great teacher and or coach and the ability of instilling that commitment in their students and players. Over the years few coaches have been compared to the great Vince Lombardi perhaps the greatest of all coaches.

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Vince Lombardi

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” Vince Lombardi

The ability to succeed is based on hard work, desire, and determination. These are skills that great teachers and great coaches can instill in students and players.

“The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else” John Madden

Sadly far too often we only see the champion, how many folks can remember who finished second or third in the national championship game. This may be a fault in our society that we settle for only the greatest only the best. The truth of the matter is we live on a bell shape curve and only a few will ever be the best. It is in the trying and it is motivating students and trying as a teacher to excel. It is so easy to succumb to the down side of that curve, 50% will not succeed, mentality so why should I try harder.

“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.” Knute Rockne

A slight paraphrase of this great quote from the great Notre Dame coach. “One teacher teaching is better than fifty saying they do”. This is what it is about; it is about truly teaching, motivating, instilling determination, and desire. It is about coaching. It is about succeeding rather than failure. I hear every day, but I have a seventy I am passing. That really makes me upset that a child concedes to a seventy. Who gave out seventy percent passes? But we do it all the time in all aspects of our lives. Can a thirty six inch jumper clear sixty inches? Many years ago a so-so high jumper changed his form, he was also a student of physics and as such he noticed jumpers were leading with their foot and the body following. He changed his form, he lead with his head and torso and high jumping changed forever. A world record and Olympic gold went to Dick Fossberry and the Fossberry flop as it was called is now the jumping style of all high jumpers. Funny thing is, today all high jumpers lead with their head a matter of physics getting the heaviest part over first and those muscles pushing it over last which takes less effort, and the world record keeps going up.
It is about ideas, determination and commitment and then any goal can be accomplished. Can this apply to teaching and learning? Most assuredly we can, but we have to make an effort and we have to look for the means of accomplishing the task. Federal standards called for research based programs in educational settings yet there are only a few so the field is narrow. The difficultly is doing new research is that it requires guinea pigs and too many teachers and programs do not want to fail. Teacher’s jobs are at stake and administrators as well and so we in trying to improve may actually have boxed ourselves in by limiting improvement to a narrow window of research proven programs, which in reality may or may not work.
There are so many questions to ask, are they researched n the same demographics as the students you teach or will be teaching? Has this program truly been tested on a large group? Is there room for improvement and progress within the program? One from personal experience, I have watched administrators then limit their own program, due to their own limitations in imagination and creativity. One of my favorite’s examples is a word wall, consisting of six inch letters of vocabulary words on the wall and that is it. So an electronic version that is available at home anywhere on the computer is not a word wall since it is not on the wall. A well designed graphic as a lead in for a working notebook in class is not a word wall. A set of personal flash cards is not a word wall. Having T-shirts with vocabulary words emblazoned or sky writing vocabulary words again not a word wall. It has to be six inch red letters not yellow or blue only red. Teaching gets defeated by limits and impositions and parameters.

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

The hard part is finding those few real educators which lead me to what about a reality show and ten teachers to be and it could be called, The next great Teacher. A grand prize of a set of dry erase markers and erasers would be the prize and two cases of copy paper. Various situations would be presented and teaching suggestions offered. Contestants would be judges by famous teachers or even better politicians who have nothing better to do in terms of education and this would also get them into a classroom where they could see firsthand real education. (Reality show education at least) Anyhow after a long week albeit a good week of school and teaching I still end with please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

For all my relations
Wa de (Skee)
bird