An eclectic morning

Bird Droppings October 30, 2015
An eclectic morning

Over lunch a group of students and I began discussing, The Davinci Code and other philosophical diversions and fearing death as a basis for religion came up.

“Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Mahatma Gandhi

It has been a few years since I watched an episode of Star Trek actually it may have been one of the movies. Spock has interfered with Star Fleets objectives in relationship to a small group of colonists on an obscure planet. It seems they live forever or at least aging is so minute that life times are measured in tens of thousands of years. What was interesting is that they by choice became nearly primitive living off the land and pursuing wisdom, reading, writing, all forms of art work. Life became a process of always improving since time was not a factor. As I read this quote from Gandhi earlier, this movie popped in my mind.

“The world is apprehended by way of the mind, the world is acted upon by way of the mind and all good things and bad exist in the world by way of the mind.” Samyutta Nikaya

As I thought further about Star Trek and this group of people living on a planet where radiation from their sun seemed to be the key to longevity I was reflecting back on several incidents at school almost two years ago. My assistant Principal came in with thirty minutes left on the day before a holiday to do an observation or so she said sticking her head in the door. On top of the timing I had two extra students who had been placed with me since they are not functioning in regular classes. They were in a sort of holding pattern for a day or two. I was in the middle of trying to alleviate a year book emergency rewiring a CD burner and trying to print out a picture for a teacher who wanted her daughter’s angel scene from a Christmas play I just took for drama dept. and several extra students were assisting in helping down load hard drives from refurbished computers. So all in all, ten things were happening in last thirty minutes of last day before the holiday not counting an observation.

I never mind observations and probably have had more in four years than most have in a life time or was my AP was getting back at me for several previous practical jokes. But we think what we portray in our minds within seconds I was shifted from disaster to plotting a new reprisal. Actually got quite a good report for diversity and individualizing the learning situations.

“Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: “I am no good” or “They are not good.” Is this true? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?” Martine Batchelor, “Meditation for Life
Thinking back to the movie Spock was trying to save the Utopian society of a small group of people as he turned against Star Fleet in the movie. The reason that Star Fleet wanted this planet was literally to sell and package longevity. They were willing to destroy a people for profit. Human nature many would say. I observed those two extra students I had on that observation day. One of them I have for a period every day the other I did not know. As I thought to why both ended with me it was because of inappropriate behavior in class. Such terms as acting out and attention seeking were used. I used to be a big fan of “Law and Order” a popular TV show. Last night a young boy who had been abused was talking with the prosecutor and recalled a particular day in his life. The very man who had abused him for four years was the hero by chance. He was concerned he was “sick” because the greatest day of his life was also with the person who destroyed his life. Shortly after on the show this young man tried to kill himself.

“Real love is not based on attachment, but on altruism. In this case, your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.” the Dalai Lama

Perhaps I am trying to cram too many thoughts into one sitting. It was a busy day today and yesterday and will be tomorrow preparing for the up coming holiday and end of course tests. We all need to be looking at our lives are we trying to over simplify? Are we being honest with our selves? Do we use the word love as merely an attachment? Can we be more than we are in our given time? Many issues as we head into the holiday season I just need to take my wife’s car to the service station and here in the Atlanta area soon we will be deluged with all the folks heading south. It seems all major interstates seem to converge here and for a late Thursday just a reminder from Will Rodgers.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” Will Rogers

So as I am thinking further.

“The appreciation of the profundity and subtlety of his thought comes only after serious study, and only a few of the most committed students are willing to expend the necessary effort. Many, upon first reading him, will conclude: that he was a churlish, negative, antisocial malcontent; or that he advocated that all of us should reject society and go live in the woods; or that each person has complete license to do as he/she pleases, without consideration for the rights of others; or that he is unconscionably doctrinaire. His difficult, allusive prose, moreover, requires too much effort. All such judgments are at best simplistic and at worst, wrong.” Wendell P. Glick

Interesting I was thinking Glick was referring to me in this passage but alas it is Henry David Thoreau. In a lesson plan on how to teach Thoreau Glick points out the difficulties even today though Henry David Thoreau is recognized as a great writer it was his idiosyncrasies that kept him from public acknowledgement in his time.
“He had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, In his eulogy for Thoreau

Early today I was answering an email about how I had gone into teaching. A friend from high school never imagined me teaching. I found that interesting because since I was twelve I have been teaching be it swimming lessons, boy scouts etc. As a parent we are always teaching. I started with Henry David Thoreau in that he was a teacher but he walked away from teaching to be a better teacher. Thoreau left to become a learner. He sought knowledge; he craved new ideas and thoughts. Everything about him was a classroom.

“Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was really fond of sympathy, and threw himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people whom he loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and river: and he was always ready to lead a huckleberry-party or a search for chestnuts or grapes. Talking, one day, of a public discourse, Henry remarked that whatever succeeded with the audience was bad.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my email this morning my friend wrote about teaching should be fun and how for many years her fellow teachers thought her methods were different. Often I have other teachers wonder at what I do with students and how and why. But they learn and they ask questions. I was looking back earlier to why I chose teaching. Initially it was because of a Biology teacher I had in tenth grade. I wandered away from direct teaching into publishing of training materials for twenty three years and came back. Often I find myself using the statement I am where I need to be at this moment. My pathway has led me to this spot. Soon we will have a day of thanksgiving of holiday family and friends. So often within the constraints of life we find times of sorrow. Please be aware that around you and near by someone may be suffering as we celebrate offer a hand, a shoulder a thought and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and to borrow from a veteran and friend from an email many months back and with veterans day a few days away and still very applicable today.

“Please remember the sons and daughters in faraway lands, for once we were them” Reah Wallace, retired Navy

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Words not spoken are some of the most profound wisdom

Bird Droppings October 29, 2015
Words not spoken are some of the most profound wisdom

I am sitting at least thinking about writing and working on a chapter for a friends book and words is what is on my mind right now. I just commented on a Facebook post about learning languages and how I know enough in several languages to survive and order chicken and rice. Within the past several weeks I have watched comments from politicians made and the rebutted by often the same person which I find most interesting. Native Peoples survived this trend back in the day as treaties were made and broken all in a few years only to be told that sorry we got the wording wrong or you misunderstood what we were saying. When we said we were going to kill off the buffalo we meant all the buffalo not just those slowing the train down.

“He believes profoundly in silence – the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Sioux

Trained as a physician Dr. Eastman was also a profound and eloquent speaker for the Sioux nation. So often when we speak it is words spilling out of a bucket filled to over flowing with politically correct jargon. A barrage of often meaningless dribble that just is there waiting to explode. Such plain and nice platitudes as hello how are you, how’s the family the job and numerous other familiar little blips we tend to throw at people we meet.

“Silence is the mother of truth, for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

“In my opinion it was chiefly owing to their deep contemplation in their silent retreats in the days of youth that the old Indian orators acquired the habit of carefully arranging their thoughts.” Blackbird, Ottawa

So often in our haste we blurt out words that become meaningless simply because we feel we should be talking. As I look at the words of these great Native American orators often it was in their silence and reflection that wisdom has shown through. Sadly we will never see the silence. There was not a hasty response that was spontaneous and not thought through each word was carefully chosen so as to impact and bring the point to the listener. For many words were sacred and a privilege to use and to speak. I was thinking wouldn’t that be great if every ADHD child thought before they spoke. We would not need medications, in school suspensions, and behavior modification anymore. There would be fewer bars of soap sold as parents would not have to wash any mouths out, thinking back to my wife’s favorite movie “the Christmas Story” as Ralphie gets his mouth washed out.

“You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts” Cochise, Chiricahaua Apache

Known as a great warrior as well as spokesman for the Apache, Cochise was feared and revered by many. So often listening to the fabrications of teenagers as a teacher you do enjoy silence and or truth. So many times exaggerations flow like water each telling of a story embellishes on the next and so forth till somewhere perhaps reality really did occur.
“Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce
Growing up I recall stories of Chief Joseph and how his people avoided the army and won numerous skirmishes in there attempted flight to freedom in Canada. After being rejected by the Canadian Government they had no alternative but to surrender and Joseph’s speech has been quoted by many ever since.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.” Chief Joseph

In recent weeks I have watched our politicians talk out one side of the mouth and down the other. It is like going to a used car lot and watching used car sales folks at work. What do you believe? Watching news today is not really watching news it is ok what do I believe and what is fantasy. I find friends posting stories that have been shown to be false and literally lies numerous times over and still showing up as true. On many shelves popular newspapers on the racks at grocery stores, scandal sheets with altered photos grab the attention and we are lead to believe what the story supposedly implies. Investigators are trying to blame someone with the misinformation on Iraq that led to the war for example was a recent heading. We now know most of what we were told were lies yet we are told the people lying were only misinformed.

It becomes confusing as I am sure years ago when soldiers would explain peace treaties with numerous lines of fine print. One famous line read, “As long as the buffalo roam” to a plains tribe who lived off the vast herds of migratory buffalo numbering over fifty million on one count that would be was forever. However a new Sharps rifle accurate to over a thousand yards and a healthy trade in buffalo hides quickly reduced the herds to a handful and we said as long as the buffalo roam and they are gone. We do this today in politics, in schools and in life getting commitment based on something we already know.

“I would have been better pleased if you had never made promises, than that you should have made them and not performed them.” Shinguaconse

We so often tell little stories to a point it becomes habit and soon we are caught up in our stories with no return.

“Always tell the truth – it’s the easiest to remember.” David Mamet

Thinking as I ponder this simple statement by Mamet if we only took our own advice and just tell the truth and there would be no need to have anything to remember. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Do we make teachers or are they are born?

Bird Droppings October 28, 2015
Do we make teachers or are they are born?

I started this endeavor yesterday in response to a quality teacher issue and how we spend so little time evaluating teachers and place emphasis on a non-valid instrument such as an end of course test. I eventually got a bit side tracked and came back to it today. I walked out of the house and crickets were calling as loud as any day during the summer till I realized it was just my old man hearing ringing as it does some mornings we need a few more degrees to get the frogs and crickets chirping. It was warm and a front was moving through a chance of rain. The day is under way and it was great to be a teacher.

Over the years I have listened to great teachers in college, graduate school, in industry and in the pulpits of various churches. As I went through my teacher education I had been told that men should not teach elementary school, children should be seen and not heard and most of the traditional understandings of what makes a teacher. However within those few negative comments there were positive ideas as well. I heard Dr. Norman Vincent Peale many years ago talk about positive thinking. I heard Dr. Tony Campolo lecture in sociology and everyone left the class wanting to major in sociology. Dr. Glenn Doman in a small college in Texas lectured on human development in 1968 and it impacted me to a point that much of my reading and interest in human development for years to come centered on his ideas.

“….but say there was a student’s union. Might they ask that the dropout rate be lowered? Might they stay at the negotiating table until it was below 50%? We ought to ask kids whether they think the status quo is working.” Bill Gates

In 1972 or so I found a copy of Foxfire 2 at a bookstore and it fit right into the ideas I had about teaching. I was working with a group of Learning Disabled teenagers in Warner Robins Georgia and the hands on approach of Foxfire worked wonders. I asked students what they wanted to read and bought magazines rather than use elementary level books that were provided. Amazingly reading levels went up significantly. Sadly the principal attributed to her preferred reading curriculum which I did not use and bought more of her elementary level books.

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

It is not necessarily about technique that I was intending to write but about that inborn flare for teaching which is an aspect I see as an art form, you can compound that with the fact there is not a truly effective means to evaluate teachers. For example in our school a twenty minute observation one to three times a year along with a simple ten or so item check list is our system of evaluation. Time is a crucial factor with administration as to evaluate fifty to a hundred teachers time is paramount to completing an effective evaluation. Charlotte Danielson developed a very good program that has been incorporated in the ETS (Educational Testing Services) program of available tests and evaluation tools. However to be fair to a teacher it takes at least thirty six hours of observation to adequately evaluate with this tool. Most administrators are pushed for twenty minutes in today’s bare bones education budgets.

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

“Very little is invested in understanding great teaching. We’ve never had a meaningful evaluation system that identifies the dimensions of great teachers so we can transfer the skills to others.” Bill Gates

If only we could find a way to effectively evaluate and understand what makes a great teacher. Why is it that kids know and respond accordingly? While not an evaluation too some sound practices to follow. As I read again for the millionth time perhaps contained within a way to evaluate a great teacher.

The rest of the Foxfire Core Practices:
2. The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3. The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4. The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5. Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6. The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7. Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8. The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9. The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10. Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.

I have come back to these simple practices many times and each time it seems to me this is just good teaching. Working with the Foxfire Approach to teaching you find very quickly it does take a bit more work but results and the attitudes of kids make it worth the effort. Giving kids input to what it is they are learning adds significantly to retention and their own accountability. I have written about creativity being stripped away from schools in favor of teaching to the test. We seem to find the word accountability bounced around and use standardized tests to measure that accountability. That then surmises that a teacher is a great teacher if everyone passes the end of course test in their subject. Sounds perhaps like a good idea till you are the teacher with ten special needs students who also have to pass the test along with ten behavior problems who could care less whether they were in school or not. Now the great teacher is banging their head against the wall trying to survive and the students are literally working against them.

Essentially it comes to attitude as I started reading Dr. Donald Clifton’s book, entitled How full is your bucket. I found that the concept of a dipper and bucket is a good one. Over the weeks ahead as I finish the book I will be sure and use some quotes. In a nutshell we each have a bucket and dipper and either take out of or give to each other. The concept is if you are always giving you will never have an empty bucket. What if we could apply this simple concept in education? Looking at the idea of Foxfire and John Dewey’s democratic classroom and filling a bucket there are possibilities out there we could find a way to take the natural talents of a given teacher and assist them in bringing that out. If we could give students input and communicate and if we could get away from the methods and technique only approach to teaching we could maybe make a significant change in education. So here I am wondering why we do not much like arguing politics probably even the best solution will never see the light of day because of the powers that be. So as always please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Building doors instead of just building walls

Bird Droppings October 27, 2015
Building doors instead of just building walls

I enjoy arriving at school while the stars are still shining overhead something about the darkness is peaceful for me. I can remember when my youngest would ride to school with me; he is not quite as big a fan of mornings and pre-sunrise as I am. He misses that few extra moments of sleep each day. Last week while my granddaughter visited we started telling stories and she too got caught up and was adding to the story. I would start a story about who ever she wanted and we would make up things as we went. Grandmommie was first and Charlie wanted to go to Disney Store with Grandmommie so the story unfolded. I was in Barnes and Nobles book store a few weeks ago and picked up a copy of James Bradley’s book Flags of our fathers. The opening quote is a very powerful, what if.

“Mothers should negotiate between nations. The mothers of fighting countries would agree: Stop this killing now. Stop it now.” Yoshikuni Taki

I have been in several I should say many meetings the past few years with teachers and parents. It has been a few years since my youngest son handed me a sheet of paper to sign up for a teacher parent conference in geometry. It appeared that he let a test or two slip by. Any student with a less than 75% grade is to have a conference, school rules. Interesting is that so many students only want a seventy percent. As I am thinking about comments from one of my meetings where a mother wanted the school to do what she was doing in keeping her children up with their work, because she was tired. Ideally it would be great each teacher spend time each day with each individual student. However if you do the calculations at one hundred and ten minutes or so per class and thirty plus students that is less than four minutes apiece if there is no start up or down time. Less than four minutes for each student.

“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein

This has been a favorite quote of mine for many years and hanging on the back of my classroom door where I can see it most of the day. As a parent and a teacher how do we make our parenting and or teaching so potent? How do we or should we provide a doorway or open the door for students and children?

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

Could not this person be a parent, friend and or a teacher?

“John Dewey’s significance for informal educators lies in a number of areas. First, his belief that education must engage with and enlarge experience has continued to be a significant strand in informal education practice. Second and linked to this, Dewey’s exploration of thinking and reflection – and the associated role of educators – has continued to be an inspiration. We can see it at work, for example, in the models developed by writers such as David Boud and Donald Schön. Third, his concern with interaction and environments for learning provides a continuing framework for practice. Last, his passion for democracy, for educating so that all may share in a common life, provides a strong rationale for practice in the associational settings in which informal educators work.” Mark K. Smith 2001

As I sit and think about how do we work with kids and I recall ideas from John Dewey. This passage written by Mark Smith relates four thoughts from John Dewey’s philosophy engage and enlarge experience, thinking and reflection, interactions and environments for learning, and democracy in the classroom. Engage and enlarge experience: If we as teachers draw on what the child knows and has seen and touched and then build on that and develop so that we can move forward and or sideways or up and down.

“Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldus Huxley –

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.” John Keats –

“Common experience is the gold reserve which confers an exchange value on the currency which words are; without this reserve of shared experiences, all our pronouncements are checks drawn on insufficient funds.” Rene Daume

Thinking and reflection: This is that aspect that Einstein refers to that has baffled the sages down through time. How to get students anyone to think and then as Dewey teaches reflect?

“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” Georges Bernanos

“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.” Buddha

“Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” The Foxfire Approach

Interaction and environments for learning: Providing an atmosphere that students want to be in is a key to success. Be it at home or at school if a child does not want to be there it is difficult to learn and to function.

“Course content is connected to the community in which the learners live. Learners’ work will “bring home” larger issues by identifying attitudes about and illustrations and implications of those issues in their home communities.” The Foxfire Approach

“For industry to support education and training it must provide a relevant cost benefit to the employer. The content and design of the learning on offer must be capable of not only sustaining the candidate’s willingness and ability to learn but also respond to the ever changing environment within which industry operates.” Mike Goodwin, University of Wolver Hampton addressing the concept of negotiated work based learning

Having a context for learning by providing rationale and reason for what is being taught. Content is much easier to work with it is in the text book but providing context is where doors are created and opened.

Democracy in the class room: Students and children being actively involved in their class room changes often the direction and flow of learning.

“My own belief….is that a teacher’s stated views – and, more important, the visible actions which that teacher takes during a year in public school – are infinitely more relentless in their impact on the students than a wealth of books of any possible variety.” Jonathan Kozol, On Being a Teacher, p. 25

“Students can be forced to sit through a class, but they cannot be forced to be interested in it, or to do well.” Alfie Kohn

“A visitor then to my democratic classroom in action would walk into a room in which students are working in groups or individually grappling with ideas that will later enrich the classroom. Deliberation and debate would be ongoing as students worked on issues and projects that mattered to them as both a class and as individuals. I as the teacher would not be the center point of the room but would instead be its facilitator and manager.” Ryan Niman

Parents, students, teachers and administrators each have differing and often specific involvement in that student’s learning. There is no specific script that is better than another. As I listened to a mother she wanted the school do take over all she did at home I wondered, what are you going to do take a vacation? While she was tired and concerned those 16 hours away (sixteen hour syndrome and still no cure) from school are as crucial as the eight or so that students spend in school. It is about getting sleep, proper nutrition, care and love which are all integral aspects of getting a child to learn and to have an appreciation for learning. Who opens the door and who creates the door sort of blend in and are not as important as that it is open and students and parents and teachers can each find their role and build. It is up to each of us to try and do just a little better each day in all that we do and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Can we find answers in reflection

Bird Droppings October 27, 2015
Can we find answers in reflection

Yesterday I was wished a happy birthday by a friend on Facebook and it got me thinking a week ahead that soon I would be another year older. Yesterday was not my birthday and it is coming up far too soon. As I look forward to being another year older and with that many more moments for reflection and thoughts the past week especially being out of school for fall break and illness. On many other years around this time I would go to the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon Georgia and climb to the top of the great temple mound. There is something about standing facing to each direction on such a sacred site. For the last ten thousand years this spot has been sacred and a special place to Native Americans of many tribes.

It has been almost a three weeks since I sat in my class room at school doing some paper work and I was thinking about a mason jar of good Georgia sweet tea from Momma Jean’s at H&H over on Cherry Street in Macon and a couple of Advil for this bug I have been fighting for a tree weeks now. It has been an interesting week off culminating Saturday with my granddaughter’s fall festival in Winder. I seem to walk into conversations with different people, people I never met before. A lady at the counter at the cash register as I bought hot dogs and hamburgers and I started talking about the CCC and job corps of FDR. Her brother had worked for CCC back in the 1930’s or so working for the archeological digging at the Ocmulgee Indian mounds. While I was there an obnoxious man started arguing about smoking in public. Add to that every day at the corner store someone new and interesting.

I went out much earlier today than I have all week chasing a stray dogg off the front porch it seems we attract the dogs and cats dumped on the dirt road. I was hoping on catching the sunrise maybe I was thinking it was daylight savings time last night. But we still have a week or so. A few sprigs of sweet grass and a sage leave or two help bolster the senses as the smoke rises and wanders across the darkness. Watching a bit of smoke curl up in the morning is an interesting sight. It was cool but not cold as I walked out into the backyard. The grass was damp from a morning dew and rain coming in. My cricket chorus while subdued in the chill was doing their best maybe two or three were chirping still perhaps up against the house.

As I go through the day today it is always a good feeling to receive birthday wishes from friends and family even though a week early. I was thinking earlier this morning about what direction to go but there were so many thoughts circulating in my head, I was thinking about numerous points of impact in sixty five years plus of life. I thought back to one I ponder on quite a bit, especially as recently I found on Facebook someone from the same small town in Pennsylvania that I lived in. The one point that continues to pop up is poking a fellow in the butt with a pencil in East Fallowfeild Elementary school in first grade. While not an inspiring event it has stuck with me for some reason from fifty eight years ago, might be getting hit in the head by my teacher after the fact that reminds me.

On a more dark note I remember being carried through the polio wards in West Chester Hospital when I was three years old or so and seeing kids one day and they are were gone the next. I recall meeting a little autistic boy Artie Cohen in 1970 or so his photo still hangs in my current classroom. I have so many very fond memories of “The JUNGLE”, a small patch of sassafras, honeysuckle and sumac that a few of us literally lived in for so many years. There are many good friends from my graduating class in high school who I still communicate with daily if not weekly. I recall having homemade root beer at a good friend’s house on Caln Meeting house road so many years ago.

It was over thirty five years ago I met my wife to be and all of those thoughts and memories of the births of my three kids are with me always. There are so many moments special to me going through my head. I recall very easily my first day back teaching on September 11, 2001. I have so many folks I have met along the way in teaching and grad school and each a memory worth saving. As I think I have found out how critical it is to reflect and ponder and really seeing as I get older how important this is to the journey we embark on in life.

“Before undertaking a project, ponder what will be gained, lost and ultimately achieved. There is nothing too difficult for a man who, before he acts, deliberates with chosen friends and reflects privately.” Tirukkural 47: 461-462

This particular thought was written nearly 2000 years ago by a master weaver, a member of the lowest caste in Hindu culture and life. Pondering is an old art I found out. Many of you who have taken courses at Piedmont College and or read John Dewey’s work understand the concept of reflection and how it is engrained in further thinking.

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

As I read these two views to start today having read Dewey numerous times he too advocates reflection for teachers and students. As I read his view here is one of frustration in dealing with mankind, for far too often it is too difficult for men to climb out of that rut and to even consider true reflection.
“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Henry David Thoreau

“The poet’s, commonly, is not the logger’s path, but a woodman’s … there are spirits … to whom no simplicity is barren. There are not only stately pines, but fragile flowers, like the orchids, commonly described as too delicate for cultivation, which derive their nutriment from the crudest mass of peat. These remind us, that, not only for strength, but for beauty, the poet must, from time to time, travel the logger’s path and the Indian trail, to drink at some new and more bracing fountain of the Muses, far in the recesses of the wilderness.” Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods
It has been a few mornings although today as I took out our westie it was a star filled sky and I was remembering back when very close friend Dr. Harold Sweetman, was showing me Cassiopeia for the first time as a high school student in Boy Scouts. It was over my head this morning as I headed out. It is difficult for me to not ponder and reflect on what life presents to me each day. For me each morning as I write it is a clearing, a meditation of sorts, it is reading, finding pieces to my own puzzle to share and meditate upon with others as I can. It is looking at that rut we travel or seeking anew along the Indian trail of Thoreau.

“The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” John Dewey

Knowing and understanding are keys to democracy and to life and moving beyond the rut, looking for the loggers trail or for the pathway of the Indian requires learning and knowledge and that is education.

“I believe that the individual who is to be educated is a social individual and that society is an organic union of individuals.” “I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed. The value of these is conceived as lying largely in the remote future; the child must do these things for the sake of something else he is to do; they are mere preparation. As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” John Dewey

I was wondering about the direction of the flow of my thoughts as I read, and pondered I find Thoreau similar to John Dewey both wanting experience to be more than simply taking up time. They both want it to be meaningful learning and for it to move each of us a step ahead. Dewey wants education to be about now as well as providing tools for later. He offers that it should be meaningful, that it has to affect life immediately and currently as well in the future. This is what Thoreau was all about as well. Thoreau quit teaching to become a learner as the story goes and in doing so became a better teacher. The reflections of the master weaver help many to ponder even today and show that rather than simply doing something we need to see the now and then of an effort.
Dewey argued that far too often we in society today only look at the then. Thoreau offered the now and Dewey argued against simply educating for later that there has to be an impact now as well to be meaning and long lasting. Learning has to become part of the life experience of the child.

“It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths of his own. He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what creature had taken this path before him. His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was connected with Nature, — and the meaning of Nature was never attempted to be defined by him. … His power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as with a microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a photographic register of all he saw and heard. And yet none knew better than he that it is not the fact that imports, but the impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact lay in glory in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole. His poetry might be good or bad; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility and technical skill, but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual perception.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, a eulogy for Henry David Thoreau

I am sorry I am wandering today but I can do whatever I want maybe it is because I am getting old, between the simple thoughts of HDT and the planned thinking of Dewey. I want you to ponder yourself as the day goes on and the week ahead begins. Where in among the shade of the tress do you see your thoughts going? Is it following the path of the logger or the Indian or is it seeing life as a rut in your journey or is it as a trail blazer seeing for the first time the trail and leaving a path for the next person to see as new. I have for so long been writing that life is about the journey we take. I always seem to find my way to this simple quote.

“And how high can you fly with broken wings? Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow brings. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

For many years I have been using a line from this song by Aerosmith, taken from the context of the song. “Life is a journey not a destination”, and I think back to when I first saw it posted on my computer after spending the night at The Athens Regional Hospital in Athens Georgia, holding the hand of a sixteen year old young man who had been hit by a semi after doing a u turn on a back road. My oldest son and his band played Aerosmith tunes quite a bit. But this was a line from a song that in and of itself was significant. It was for him and for me at that moment very significant and life altering for me.

It evolved for me as I saw how my own life was a journey. As I looked at each aspect of my own life and see each is crucial to the next. In days prior I had been reading numerous books on the purpose in life or finding Meaning in life trying to find a focus for myself. I was floundering in business and trying to get a foothold back on the day I first saw this quote, a yellow post it note on a computer after sitting with a dying teenager. A life changing or life refocusing moment it would seem. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how profound for my son barely older than the young man who was killed to have found this concept and I had been searching for nearly fifty years and still had not seen.

My own life started to focus and clear and ideas thoughts seemed to flow and make sense. Earlier today I was answering an email from someone I have never met. I was talking with several people yesterday about how we can in today’s electronic age communicate with so many people all in a touch of a computer keyboard. Often with photos and such attached, multimedia is an understatement. Actually we addressed this in graduate school over the past few conversations. But the message is still clear. It is about the journey.

A key element to me is the example we set, the picture we paint for others to see that has significance and meaning as we go through the day. What would a child learn from a teacher who yells at an extremely high decibel other than to cover their ears? What does a child learn from a parent who abuses them other than abuse? What does a friend learn from a friend when they betray them other than distrust? Within the fragility of our experiences we need examples of direction of positive journeying. Each day I wonder why kids come by my room just to smile and say hi. At other times it is to ask for a word or two of advice. Life is about the journey, may we all be cleaning the pathway rather than dropping boulders for others to trip on. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and you know each new day is another step along the way. May peace be with you and be sure to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

What is that piece you cannot teach teachers?

Bird Droppings October 22, 2015
What is that piece you cannot teach teachers?

“Studies suggest that instructional and management processes are key to effectiveness, but many interview and survey responses about effective teaching emphasize the teacher’s affective characteristics, or social and emotional behaviors, more than pedagogical practice.” James H. Stronge, Qualities of Effective Teachers

I have been a student in classes with and have heard over the years many great teachers. If I was to put a characterization on those individuals it would be they could communicate and relate to their students. There was an affective, emotional and social interaction that brought relevance to their teachings. I first gained a serious enjoyment of literature from a professor at Mercer University in Macon Georgia who stood up on a desk and began reciting Shakespeare in his overalls. He had studied Shakespeare in Great Britain and acted in Shakespearean theatre while there. I was enthralled and for the first time in four or five years of college received an A in a Literature class. This professor went on after his tenure at Mercer to work with indigent farmers in rural Georgia which was his true passion.

“Why does everyone seem to have a story about how one special teacher got through to them, and reshaped their life forever? Could it be that teaching is just about the most important job in the world? And could it be that in the end, the challenge of fixing Americas schools comes down to putting great teachers into classrooms and giving them the tools they need to do what they do best.” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

I am sitting here a bit later than I have been normally as my schedule is mixed up with school holidays and recovering from an illness and getting up a bit later than normal. I knew my wife would be going to work so no one around to wake me up. I went outside into the fifty degree chilly morning with our dog earlier. There were stars and silence was nearly deafening in the chill. I could imagine early people on this spot hundreds even thousands of years ago looking up and seeing what I was seeing and imagining a hunter, a stag, a warrior, and dragons all emblazoned across the sky. But my experience does have some implication to my topic today as to what it is that in inherent ingredient in a great teacher.

“If we can’t identify the best teachers by comparing their credentials, we face an obvious and crucial question: How do we define a good teacher.” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

It has been nearly ten years since I finished my Specialist degree at Piedmont College. When we would sit in our cohort and on that first day we were introduced to a thirty or so page document that at that time was labeled the STAR. This was to be the basis for our degree program. Basically it was a rubric to determine whether or not you as a teacher were proficient, excellent or distinguished and so forth. The rubric was loosely based off of work done by educational consultant Charlotte Danielson who now heads up the Danielson Group based in Princeton New Jersey. I have read articles arguing the merits of Danielson and Stronge but I see good points in their work. I do have issue with some of the bastardization school reformers have done with their words.

“An effective system of teacher evaluation accomplishes two things: it ensures quality teaching and it promotes professional learning. The quality of teaching is the single most important determinant of student learning; a school district’s system of teacher evaluation is the method by which it ensures that teaching is of high quality. Therefore, the system developed for teacher evaluation must have certain characteristics: it must be rigorous, valid, reliable, and defensible, and must be grounded in a research-based and accepted definition of good teaching.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

“When teachers engage in self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation, they become more thoughtful and analytic about their work, and are in a position to improve their teaching. Evaluators can contribute to teachers’ professional learning through the use of in-depth reflective questions. By shifting the focus of evaluation from “inspection” to “collaborative reflection” educators can ensure the maximum benefit from the evaluation activities.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

The major goal of the Specialist program was for each of us to leave Piedmont as Distinguished Teachers. Somewhere I actually have a medal on a blue ribbon showing that I am a distinguished teacher. There is a catch to this being a great or distinguished teacher does not stop the day that it is anointed on you. This is literally who you are not a degree or piece of paper. But what makes a great teacher different and what is it that gives us these great teachers? According to the Danielson framework there are some specifics.

The Framework for Teaching:
Components of Professional Practice
Domain 1: Planning and Preparation Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
 Demonstrating Knowledge of Content
and Pedagogy Demonstrating
 Knowledge of Students
 Setting Instructional Outcomes
 Demonstrating Knowledge of Resources
 Designing Coherent Instruction
 Designing Student Assessments
 Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
 Establishing a Culture for Learning
 Managing Classroom Procedures
 Managing Student Behavior
 Organizing Physical Space
Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities Domain 3: Instruction
 Reflecting on Teaching
 Maintaining Accurate Records
 Communicating with Families
 Participating in a Professional
 Community
 Growing and Developing Professionally
 Showing Professionalism
 Communicating with Students
 Using Questioning and Discussion
 Techniques
 Engaging Students in Learning
 Using Assessment in Instruction
 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness
From Danielson Group website:

So often we need to confine our ideas to lists too easy to understand bits and pieces so we can check off what we have done or will do. Danielson’s four domains are significantly more than most twenty minute walk through that are the standard in Georgia. But still there are pieces that cannot be pinned down so easily. James Stronge in his book, Qualities of Effective Teachers has a few that stand out.

“Effective teachers care about their students and demonstrate they care in such a way that their students are aware of it.”

“Effective teachers practice focused and sympathetic listening to show students they care not only about what happens in the classroom, but about students’ lives in general. These teachers initiate two way communications that exudes trust, tact, honesty, humility, and care.”

“Effective, caring teachers know students both informally and formally. They use every opportunity at school and in the community to keep the lines of communication open.”

It might sound a bit silly but I am bothered when a teacher says they could not live in the community they teach in. How do you ever know your students if you only see them and experience what they experience eight hours a day? So often it is hard for teachers to break through the shell of teacher student barriers that are presented and held in place by tradition and often school policy. Teaching is not just standing in front of a group of students and lecturing for two hours. Generally most are asleep within the first ten minutes. Relationships need to be developed and cultivated that can bridge gaps. Emails to parents, communications with students and parents to let them know you are concerned. In all of my undergraduate and graduate years I only seriously remember one very bad professor. He would come in put the text book on his podium and then read it to us. When the bell would ring he would fold his book closed and leave. His office when open was rather cold. One girl I recall went to him for some help and came in sat down and he stared at her for twenty minutes and never said a word.

“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, Ethics and Curriculum

Perhaps it is remembering that worst case scenario of bygone years and multiplying it over and over in our heads to help us conceive of and develop what is the way things should be. I think I came to my idea of what makes a great teacher by comparing the worst and best and seeing the vast difference in learning that occurs. I did not need research and data to see kids were reading who used to be illiterate. I did not need a check list to watch people come away from a great teacher with the conversation still going and carrying it to lunch in the commons at Mercer or over dinner at Piedmont or Georgia Southern.

“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 so easy to throw out the word passion and try and point to ourselves and say we are passionate teachers. But you can see quickly the difference between the also run and the passionate in life. As I wander today I have been a fan of Savannah College of Arts Literature Professor Mary Aswell Doll’s thoughts and have used them numerous times as references in papers on curriculum and education. This illustration of an electric current running through us combined with Fried’s passion and these are components of a great teacher.

“Curriculum is also … a coursing, as in electric current. The work of the curriculum theorist should tap this intense current within, that which courses through our inner person, that which electrifies or gives life to the persons energy source.” Mary Aswell Doll

You have got soul. Many the time, I have heard that remark in reference to or about someone. One of the experts on soul is Thomas Moore who has written numerous best sellers about this often ambiguous subject.

“Soul is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with the depth value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or something to do with immortality. When we say someone has soul we know what we mean.” Thomas Moore

Soul cannot be taught it cannot be bought and it cannot be traded for. Moore uses some words here going a bit beyond Stronge’s qualities of a great teacher. Depth value, relatedness, heart and personal substance these are attributes are also pieces of who a great teacher is. A great teacher has soul might be my next point. Over the numerous years of teaching I have heard teachers say they have been called to teach. I sort of wandered back into teaching. Finding it was where I was meant to be. Parker Palmer offers to teachers that there is sacredness in our undertaking.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, and 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, The Courage to Teach

Maybe I should have stopped a few hours back but being in my sanctuary here upstairs and totally quiet save for Brewer and Shipley for a couple of hours and I get a bit carried away. I want to stop with a thought that no door can remain closed. We as teachers need to be about self-improvement, becoming students as well as teachers learning and reflecting so that we can always become better at our undertaking. We are critical links in our societal endeavors and it is crucial we hold up our end.

“I used to think that any door could be opened. Some stood freely open, some could be opened easily; some were harder to penetrate. Sometimes you had to knock, sometimes bang, sometimes charge; but always the door could be opened.” Susan Thomas Anthony, Walk With Spirit

I started this many hours ago and here I am bringing to a close an unfinished work. Hopefully over the next few days I can address this idea of what makes for a great teacher but until that time please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

Within the circle of life a new life coming

Bird Droppings October 21, 2015
Within the circle of life a new life coming

I have wandered many miles the past few days. After being down under the weather for nearly two weeks my adrenalin seriously kicked in. My wife and I shared Monday with her mother and sister in the North Georgia Mountains and Tuesday took our time coming home. So I need to get my sleep habits shifted back to school hours I have been sleeping on and off all day while I was sick and then staying up late and waking late. It is a new day a glorious day today.

Resurrection
By Susan Thomas Underwood

The universe is energy in constant motion.
There are ebbs and flows;
Outcomes and income,
And change…… Always change.

The physical world reflects this motion
In the cycles of life,
There is spring and fall, winter and summer,
Birth and death; and rebirth…
Resurrection!

Einstein proved that even time is relative
In his theory of relativity,
All is relative …. All is change
You can count on it.

Be then as the willow;
Learn to bend with the wind!
Always dream, though your dreams may change.
Always produce, though your product may change.
Always love, though your love may change.
Always live, though your life will change.
You can count on it!

Susan Thomas Underwood is a native Oklahoman, Shawnee, and author. I saw her book of thoughts, Walk with Spirit, on Amazon.com and thought I might take a look. I am looking forward in the coming weeks ahead holidays and special events for me and my family. We will be celebrating a fifth birthday party for our first granddaughter; my youngest son and his wife who live in Winder Georgia are having a celebration. Then our second granddaughters third birthday is this week as my middle son and his wife who live in Southern Pines North Carolina will be having a party. Add to this and now five years ago roughly my middle son asked his girlfriend of over a year if she would marry him and she accepted and their anniversary is just past. My nephew and his wife celebrate their son’s fifth birthday and for an extended family so many blessings these days ahead to remember and more to come.

As I read this first entry in Underwood’s book I thought to my own existence these past sixty plus years and changes I have been through, as a son, parent, husband, father and now a grandfather.

“The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, the summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me. The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower, speaks to me. The strength of the fire, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me and my heart soars.” Chief Dan George

I find myself quoting Dan George many times. Dan was a Salish chief from Canada and an accomplished actor later in his life. Some may remember him from the movie Little Big Man or Outlaw Josie Wales. But he was too an eloquent speaker and poet. He often spoke of nature but also of the intertwining of life. He would speak of the roads we each travel and cross many times. I spent most of the past weekend watching, observing, holding and photographing my grandchildren and helping my wife get the house ready for the holidays while she ran around hunting for bargains. I was at the baker and texted her a picture of the grandbabies birthday cake for the weekend and fortunately this year as she went to reach her phone she did not break her foot as she did last year. It is hard to recall a tiny newborn three years ago when each gesture and smile was first for her. I am so happy on how we as family responded and have encouraged her as she is learning daily. It seems even for a teacher watching my grandbabies learn daily I am amazed.

As a teacher being a grandparent becomes our teaching job number one, not so much to have them belief or think as I do but to provide pathways for them to walk and learn on her own. Our journeys in life are not always smooth going and it is being able to offer a hand when needed. I recall three years back watching my granddaughter and my son as we went for blood work the bond that has been made in a few short hours is one of a lifetime. Watching her mother hold and talk softly whispering as she was carefully touching her eyes, nose and cheeks is a bond that is impossible to break. During a brief moment or two, I was peering through the lens of my camera as my granddaughter in a matter of seconds in her grandmother’s lap made a series of facial expressions almost as if she knew I have grandma wrapped around my ever so tiny finger now. As the orator and actor Dan George stated so many years ago, “they speak to me and my heart soars”.

It is a new week and grandbabies birthdays on the way it is all happening so fast. May peace be with you all in the coming days and may we all keep those in harm’s way on our hearts and on our minds and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird