Do more than belonging

Bird Droppings December 4, 2011

Do more than belonging

 

It has been quite a while since I was unable to walk out first thing in the morning whether weather or being lazy it was not a good morning to venture out and I think the dog knew it as well and slept in. A semester heads into its final week of classes than End of Course Tests and it will be hard with a few days off to try and finish so much unfinished business with graduate school and around the house in my herb gardens and flower beds. It has been a very dry year currently and any rain is welcome. It seems we have been having daily weather forecasts with scattered showers and a chance of sunshine and a chance of freeze. So much of my yard work has been put off due to wet conditions, grandbaby birthday, my mother in hospital and staying after school tutoring trying to help kids pass EOCT. It has been nearly five summers since I submitted a reflection of sorts for my doctorate work on a book I read based on looking at history in more than one color, more than one culture and or societal norm. Rereading that reflection led me to a powerful thought.

 

“Do more than belong; participate. Do more than care; help. Do more than believe; practice. Do more than be fair; be kind. Do more than forgive; forget. Do more than dream; work.” William Arthur Ward

 

As I sit here this morning responding to emails from previous days I am slowly catching up. It is through our actions we are perceived, it was many many nights ago at a basketball game several fans were asked nicely to leave by administration and eventually sheriffs intervened in the altercation. You could be upset with a situation but when you vocalize using words that in reality do not really make sense, as so often swearing does not (sit and write literal meanings to most swearing) and add hand gestures and increase volume, you are being perceived as out of control. When asked nicely to cease such distracting behavior and you continue that too so only adds to the perception of perhaps out of control. When you on top of this you then speak to a sheriff in a derogatory manner, it again fuels the flames of perception, and you easily could be seen as a person who has ceased to utilize their own self-control and the result, being asked quite nicely to not be in the gym in public view might seem a bit understated.

It could be behavior modification time and coincidentally having a background in BM, that’s behavior modification by the way. Although today we use less harsh terms, Functional Behavior Analysis and Task Analyzes. BM is what it is about and there are times when I see some behavior that BM could mean more along the lines of potty training. For example, the first offense at a basketball game would end in the next game you can come but must wear a dog training collar. In control booth sits your modifier, preferably a spouse or child who probably will enjoy this, holding the button. If you get out of control they get to press the button sending a mild shock to your neck. However if you continue they also have on the side of the control the increase switch, raising the voltage. I think there are some spouses that may automatically go to max even for first jolt.

There is a chance of course that the child or spouse in the control booth has read Skinner’s books and articles and knows intermittent variable reinforcement works great too and shocks just to let their collared friend know who holds the button, and that might become the norm. Sporting events would never be the same. In the stands half the people sitting and twitching from shocks and the other half is sitting quietly smiling pressing the buttons. Kids could play their games and cheerleaders could cheer and what a wonderful time would be had by all. However had everyone read the first line of the first quote today none of this would be necessary.

 

“When you see a new trail, or footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing” Uncheedah, grandfather of Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman

 

Is that something we now teach? In teaching biology I use a lesson and style of teaching that I had used myself in a graduate school class demonstration on existential teaching methods. I let the students find the answers and acted only as a facilitator. In one plastic container is a tiger salamander (Elmo) and in the other a leopard gecko (Emily) one is an amphibian and the other a reptile. The lesson is based on taxonomy and differentiating between amphibians and reptiles. Having done this numerous times in summer school in Biology and in my own classes during the school year those that work through the lesson will remember which is which far better than having read a book or heard in a lecture, they literally followed the trail. How often do we take away curiosity how often do we brush the trail clean of tracks?

 

“The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity.” Edmund Burke

 

“It is a shameful thing to be weary of inquiry when what we search for is excellent.” Marcus T. Cicero

 

Far too often we do not have time for children’s questions; we do not want to follow a new trail as Uncheedah speaks of. We only want the status quo the peace and solitude of that lesson plan laid out months in advance and carefully formulated to cover each of the required curriculum needs of the subject in a given time span. Let us get from point A to point B and not venture off the track ever again.

 

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.” Samuel Johnson

 

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” Eleanor Roosevelt

 

So often I talk with students who are not curious. They seldom ask why and only accept what is taught to them and many do not even do that and simply shrug their shoulders and state they don’t care.

We should be teaching children to challenge, to question, never just accepting an answer. Back a few years one of my sons in high school had the highest regard for a teacher and on an occasion pointed out an error on a discussion transparency dealing with a specific type of animal. He pointed out that what was on the slide was in error and backed it up with the very biology book they were using, as well as other sources. A year later in he was in another Advanced Placement Biology class, and the same slide, same response. He again pointed out the error and the teacher was still teaching exactly the same, still in error and had never changed that slide. By chance three years later, speaking to a class, that slide again appeared, this time his respect for that teacher was gone, while a good teacher, a poor learner. It was difficult for a “teacher” to except a “students” understanding of a topic albeit that students brother had raised and bred that specific animal at home for many years so it was not simply a student spouting off, there was experiential knowledge involved.

 

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Edward Sagan

 

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.” Sadie Black

 

We got into a discussion of sorts on Friday about doing school work. So often teachers assign a certain number of problems in math regardless of whether the students know how to do that skill or not, homework for example you need to do these twenty problems. If the skill is known, why do the assignment other than practice, if not known, doing problems you do not know how to do, doesn’t help. This is not to pick on math teachers but so often this happens and students begin to look down on busy work. If that assignment had meaning, perhaps more care and effort would ensue.

 

“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” Lucille Ball

 

“It is not good to know more unless we do more with what we already know.” R. K. Bergethon

 

When you can apply a piece of knowledge it lasts far more than when it is simply an idea, a passing, thought something to forget. In some subjects it is difficult to make ideas applicable, at least this is what some teachers think and students soon grow weary and curiosity is gone. Several times I have mentioned a friend who in teaching history would occasionally dress as a knight or king and or a lowly goat herder to make a point drawing the class into the lesson. We got into a discussion at my nieces wedding on education of all things. Sitting talking between a new medical doctor, a nursing Ph.D. student, a recent college graduate, and myself a doctorate student in education and talking about Mercer Medical schools interesting concept of learning. Students are directly involved in learning which medical schools consider a new methodology and nursing students have known for a long time and well John Dewey explained nearly one hundred and twenty years ago as progressive education.

 

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

 

“I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

To instill curiosity a teacher must also be curious; a teacher must also be a learner. Recently I read several articles about schools where students and teachers make choices and decisions on the operation of the school, a truly democratic school. TheSudburyValleySchoolinMassachusettsis an example as I mentioned recently. Many years ago Socrates would simply ask a question and students would have to find the answers, not be told the answers and Socrates would assist through more questions. He must have upset his school board since he was required to drink poison.

 

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.” Mark Twain

 

This is a good place to wind down today. I am sitting here, thinking, pondering, listening to R. Carlos Nakai on my Blackberry and wondering about where the day may go and what will be said and who will listen. I find solace in that thought. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.

namaste

bird

Intuition such a powerful force

Bird Droppings December 3, 2011 Intuition such a powerful force Later today we are having a birthday party the day after for our granddaughter since she lives out of town and is coming down to see us. As I thought this morning one of my favorite pondering ideas is that of intuition. Intuition is an interesting word and idea that often gets a bad rap. I recall many years ago when my middle son was in eighth grade and was so frustrated in math. He had really enjoyed math to start the year and was excelling as usual. About midterm his teacher became ill and had to resign and he all of a sudden had subs and sat on the floor in another math class. However all seemingly worked out till he came home one day and said his teacher wouldn’t let him do math the way he had been doing it. His way was so much easier for the class and he had been doing equations and math for several years that way. The teacher said it wasn’t in the book so he couldn’t do it. Unfortunately I wish I knew more about math or knew what I know now about school structure and politics. He ended up with the only B he ever got in 12 years of school in that messed up math class. At the eighth grade graduation after 8 years of straight A’s an 89 kept him from standing with only four others who had as well had straight A’s for 8 years. That was not a crowning point in his childhood or in my parentinghood. He survived and went to high school it was in calculus he one day came home and said remember how I did math in eighth grade it was right it was calculus. I was doing calculus I just could not explain it then other than I knew it worked, intuition. As I watched him graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology a few years back he had more calculus under his belt than many of his former teachers that he has had. They stopped arguing with him somewhere in ninth grade in regards to math by the way and his teachers let him solve as he did. “Trust your hunches. They’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level.” Dr. Joyce Brothers An interesting concept, intuition is hidden away facts and thoughts that surface as a hunch. “If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.” Ralph Waldo Emerson “The struggle of the male to learn to listen to and respect his own intuitive, inner prompting is the greatest challenge of all. His conditioning has been so powerful that it has all but destroyed his ability to be self-aware.” Herb Goldberg As a psychologically oriented person I find it an interesting thought that we suppress intuition in boys and encourage it in woman. “Often you have to rely on intuition.” Bill Gates Many times in life I have seen remarks from successful people who have relied on intuition and who have use their gut instinct to go that one more mile. Intuition really however is more the suppressed facts and knowledge we do not use daily hidden away in brain mechanisms we still do not understand often triggered by an idea, thought, or event we are inspired and intuition kicks in. It very well may be women have a better handle on it but not always. Men seem to want facts to prove their point. However for many intuition, is deeply enough based on a fact or an interpretation of a fact or possibly a perception of a fact? I truly find that interesting as I sit and wonder. Perhaps that would provide a topic for a doctorial thesis on intuition one day although that will have to be my next degree. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks. namaste bird

High stakes testing and/or inspection does it work?

Bird Droppings November 12, 2011
High Stakes Testing and/or Inspection does it work?

I was thinking back this morning to several months of getting ready for a peer review, GAPPS Review. If you throw in the Georgia High School Graduation retests and PSAT, and End of Course tests all about the same time that was a hectic period of time and literally daily there is an ongoing teaching to the test and or inspection of one sort or another in education. We gear ourselves so diligently to getting ready for the tests and even more then for the tests.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

Reading this quote at first might cause you to wonder has Bill Gates lost his marbles. But look deeper in to what Gates is really saying. If a company has no unhappy customers they are doing everything right essentially.

“Quality is meeting or exceeding the expectations of your customers” Phillip Crosby

If we expand that customer base further to all people who we come in contact with then that idea of a source of learning is magnified many times over and if we now also have that group of everyone having expectations of us we quickly become either good or evil depending on how we are viewed by the world. That could be a stretch but in reality this is how we do see things.

“Learning is not compulsory …. Neither is survival.” W. Edwards Deming

Deming was one of the greatest industrial management consultants and thinkers of the 20th century. He provided the insight that Japanese industrialists built empires on after World War II. He summarized in fourteen points which I have included because there are some good thoughts regardless of whether you are in industry, teaching and or simply a parent. I can recall my father borrowing these from Deming as he discussed a good and quality Safety Program.

The 14 points for management in industry, education and government Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
1. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. (Maybe we in education need to read this one several times and then again)
2. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
3. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
4. Institute training on the job.
5. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers. (Leadership what a powerful word yet in education you generally get management)
6. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company (oh if we could eliminate fear among teachers what a workplace we could have and who knows maybe even empower teachers)
7. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.
8. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force. (I wonder when we will ever see this in education as we constantly want to compare the US to Japan to China to each other to ethnic groups our educational system is built on comparison and the great quality expert is saying no way)
9. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.
10. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership. (See my response on 8)
11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.
12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
Reference: http://www.deming.org/ – The W. Edwards Deming’s Institute

Interesting as I looked through the list and see applications for myself in teaching. For example point three “Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.” Not only did Deming see this as a problem, but as Sen. Paul Wellstone states.

“Making students accountable for test scores works well on a bumper sticker and it allows many politicians to look good by saying they will not tolerate failure. But it is 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

This was being seen in industry as an issue by Deming. If an inspector has to check for errors and or faulty pieces of an item what was interesting in his research done on inspectors the number of pieces faulty was in direct correlation to total number of pieces actually produced. In effect inspectors knew they had to find x number of pieces and that is how many they found. Many faulty pieces went through regardless of inspection if total was met.
Deming is saying build a quality piece first so there will be no faulty pieces. If students learn you will not have to test.

”A plague has been sweeping through American schools, wiping out the most innovative instruction and beating down some of the best teachers and administrators. Ironically, that plague has been unleashed in the name of improving schools. Invoking such terms as “tougher standards,” “accountability,” and “raising the bar,” people with little understanding of how children learn have imposed a heavy-handed, top-down, test-driven version of school reform that is lowering the quality of education in this country.” Alfie Kohn

Sitting here this morning my cold and sinuses woke me up a bit earlier than I planned. We are getting ready two or three more weeks of intensive testing in our high school officially called the End of course Tests, EOCT. There is not much pressure on High School Students at all to succeed in Georgia that is an understatement. In bold letters every student knows if you do not pass this test you will not pass this course and or graduate. I hear that there is actually a rumor, that this is being tattooed on students before tests, but I found out it is false. In industry, in politics, in homes and in schools we so often use that mentality to accomplish the ends with our children, employees and even friends. As I look at Bill Gates quote again and think of students taking standardized tests you would think someone would have caught on somewhere. Maybe we need to get tested more? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and do look over Deming’s fourteen points there are a few good ideas.
namaste
bird

Teachers are born not made

Bird Droppings October 22, 2011
Teachers are born not made

I started this endeavor yesterday and got a bit side tracked with my granddaughter and came back to it this chilly morning. I walked out of the house and few crickets were calling as they do in the warmer weather during the summer. It was chilly and a front was moving through it is to warm up again in a few days. The week of break is nearly gone and a new school week will be under way and it is great to be a teacher.
Over the years I have listened to many great teachers in college, graduate school, in industry and in the pulpits of various churches. As I went through my teacher education I have been told that men should not teach elementary school, children should be seen and not heard and most of the traditional understandings of what make 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. I heard Dr. Glenn Doman in a small college in Texas lecturing 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. I heard my father speak many times as he lectured worldwide on Loss Control Management. Another is a good friend, Dr. James Sutton who periodically makes it to Georgia and I consider one of the greats.

“….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 that success to her preferred reading curriculum and bought more of her elementary level books. I never could tell her they learned to read with Wrestling World and Car and Driver.

“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 an aspect that 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?

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 include 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. 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 and ten at risk students all in the same class 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. On top of that to date fifty seven percent have not passed a standardized test as of yet.
Essentially it comes to attitude as I started reading Dr. Donald Clifton’s book, 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 that 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.
namaste
bird