Finding where community exists

Bird Droppings November 17, 2011
Finding where community exists

As I got near the end of my doctorial course work I was involved in a class on educational ethics which featured nine texts all of which have an under lying theme of caring and relationships as a key to education or I should say successful teaching. One of the books entitled Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings, focuses on the notion of that a teacher of giving back to the community. Over the past few years I have heard numerous teachers discuss not wanting to be seen by students outside of school and literally not being a part of the school community. Yesterday we got into a debate of sorts at school on this concept. Can a teacher be a successful teacher and not be a part of the school community?
On my last trip to Barnes and Noble bookstore this past weekend I was looking for a book by J. Garrison, Dewey and Eros: Wisdom and desire in the art of teaching, which focuses on ideas from John Dewey, considered to be by many one of the great minds in educational philosophy. As I went to the bookstore I ran into a student from my high school that had transferred to Georgia Southern University. It seems that where ever I go there are students former students or parents of students showing up.

In every integral experience there is form because there is dynamic organization. I call the organization dynamic ….. Because it has growth….William James aptly compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate flights and perching of a bird…. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in which it is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior doing… If we move to rapidly, we get away from the base of supplies – of accrued meanings – the experience is flustered, thin and confused. If we dawdle too long after having extracted a net value, experience perishes of inanition.” John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934

I thought back a few years and many conversations on synchronicity and a trip home from a class actually after a midterm in Advanced Behavioral Techniques; I was hungry since I had not really stopped since early in the morning. I knew one of my former swimmers from the high school team worked at Taco Bell and sure enough she was working and I said hi, coincidently the same student who I ran into at the bookstore this past weekend. As I pulled out of Taco Bell my sweet tooth struck and I ended up at Brewster’s, as close to homemade ice cream as you can get at fast food, sounded good and there were two of my former advisees also getting ice cream. We talked for a while about uptight teachers and who was not, an interesting subject. Why do teachers get so uptight or anybody for that matter?
As I talked several more students and former students pulled in I met girlfriends and boyfriends of each and such, coincidence perhaps but an average day for me it seems. So often I mention the word coincidence and try to explain it. Recently in a letter to a friend I used the term of we are where we need to be right now at this moment and when we realize that all of a sudden so much more becomes clear. James Redfield an author refers to coincidence frequently and the idea that when you begin noticing coincidence it happens more often as you become attuned to it. Essentially as you become aware of your place in the puzzle the pieces all seem to fit better and more clearly.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung was of the nature there was purpose in all that happened and he and his former partner Sigmund Freud disagreed to an extent on the whys of this. Jung coined a word synchronicity to explain his thoughts in the early 1900’s. Events and things happening at a specific time, specific people seemingly appear by chance but obviously not.

“His (Jung) notion of synchronicity is that there is a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.” http://

“Some scientists see a theoretical grounding for synchronicity in quantum physics, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. They are finding that the isolation and separation of objects from each other is more apparent than real; at deeper levels, everything — atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, people — participates in a sensitive, flowing web of information. Physicists have shown, for example, that if two photons are separated, no matter by how far, a change in one creates a simultaneous change in the other. “A Wink from the Cosmos, by Meg Lundstrom (Intuition Magazine, May 1996)

How does synchronicity tie into community? Somewhere in and among ideas and thoughts are answers. Some people seek answers through religion some seek answers through pure science others assume there are no answers and sit on a rock. Going back to my first thought I see teaching as a community and that in that community we are integral pieces and do interconnect many times and as for me today and yesterday in many differing places. I find throwing myself into that community as significant as walking into my class room on a school day. Each time I bump into a student it adds to their appreciation of my time and effort and gives me a piece of their puzzle too help deal with any issues that may come up when I have them in class. Just in a staff meeting yesterday we discussed connections.
Each of us can choose our direction and flow as humans, as friends, and as teachers if that is our chosen lot in life. The actual point I was making was when we are aware of our interactions with others that each moment we spend with a person affects not only that person but the next person they see or talk too as we too are affected. It is in this way community is built. I came away that night and yesterday, happy having talked with some folks that I had not seen in several weeks even several years and hopefully they too went away a bit happier. This is how life works and if we are aware of this imagine the effect and impact. If I know I will be affecting people beyond my contact with someone I will be more aware of how I affect them and so forth. I recall many years ago from I believe Dr. Glenn Doman, the old credence of leaving the person you are talking with smiling will affect ten others is true. If you involve the idea of coincidence, fact or fancy who knows but it sure happens a lot. So as I wander today through differing ideas please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts.

Surmounting Learning Difficulties

Bird Droppings October 4, 2011
Surmounting learning difficulties

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

“There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them.” Phyllis Bottome

An interesting start to a morning thought process after a wonderful experience last night. Our high school softball team dominated in their final game of a best of three series and move on to region championship game. I have for ten years now taken photos of nearly every home softball game from the dugout and still can hear some, they get really loud cheering their team mates. As for my thoughts and opening quotes, one from Dr. Seuss and the other a British novelist with over thirty four books to her credit. Working with at risk kids so often in life I find in general we tend to avoid difficulties, we walk away, we steer clear, and we postpone and or we argue.

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” Isak Dinesen

I was watching a student working on what for some was a quick assignment merging several different graphics and or creating graphics into a calendar during a project. Each student went in totally different directions. One in a matter of minutes had created a Mario brothers calendar based on old Mario Brothers clips each significant to him. One was on deer hunting there was even a Care Bears focus. However one fellow was taking each frame and altering photos in a photo program eliminating back grounds and only using specific aspects of each image. Each day he would accomplish only a small portion of what others were doing yet he was totally immersed in his task. In the end he will have a really nice artistic piece but many hours are involved.

“Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Winston Churchill

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.” Dan Rather

There are times when a student procrastinates and I have had several who are world class procrastinators but watching this student work at his project meticulously detailing each image is not procrastination.

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.” Dan Rather

What intrigues me with this project and this student is he is lazy normally but this has become of interest to him. Each photo that he took in the past semester and now edits and formats in minute detail has literally become an obsession. He got in trouble in another class and asked yesterday if I would get him out of ISS so he could work on his project. As I looked at the Dan Rather quote I wondered if when he started that he knew he would lose two days work when he tried to download to a floppy more than it would hold and crashed. Or that editing a photo pixel by pixel takes time.

“It is surmounting difficulties that make heroes.” Louis Kossuth

“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” Carl Gustav Jung

What amazes me is that this student has begun to grow. In many ways he still is very lazy and often will start an assignment in great zeal only to stop before it is completed and be content with a 70%. His attitude is on of I am passing and so what.

“You can’t fly a kite unless you go against the wind and have a weight to keep it from turning a somersault. The same with man. No man will succeed unless he is ready to face and overcome difficulties and is prepared to assume responsibilities.” William J. H. Boetcker

“For every difficulty that supposedly stops a person from succeeding there are thousands who have had it a lot worse and have succeeded anyway. So can you.” Brian Tracy

As I look back over the past few days of thoughts it is in finding that spark that trick that bit of inspiration that fires a student up and gives them incentive to move forward in life always seems so elusive. This fellow has found a task he wants to complete that could be a step forward for him in other areas as well sort of as we tie a tail on a kite for balance as Boetcker states. Often it is finding that balance that a person’s finds what provides us the direction to go forward in life. I received an n email story the other day that was a tear jerker. Granted it probably does not pass the fact check and such but still a good story. Let me share this story with you whether you are a teacher, parent, student and or just a friend.

“There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. And as she stood in front of her fifth grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with the other children that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he is a joy to be around.” His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.” His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.” Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children’ laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour.

On that very day she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. And she paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class, and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets.” A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was still the best teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Four years after that, she got another letter saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life. Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago, and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you for much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.” A boy named Teddy, Author Unknown

I would like to hope I can be like Mrs. Thompson and sometimes all it takes is a teacher or a friend that cares.

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

I am sitting here finalizing my thoughts to teach an existential lesson, as I joke about so often being an existentialist. Yesterday as I walked down my hall with another teacher we were commenting on how many teachers had been here three or more years and it was less than half. Last night I ran into a teacher who no longer teaches at our school from our hall. The teachers who are gone had learned, those that remain are learners interesting as I think back and forward reading Hoffer’s thought. Hoffer was a self educated man, a philosopher coming from the docks of New York City his first book True Believer was written in the early 1950’s in his middle age and he never slowed down till his death in 1982. So today as I sit wondering about so many things be a learner not learned.

“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

Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

Sitting, pondering and grandbaby sitting

Bird Droppings June 25, 2011
Sitting, pondering and grandbaby sitting

I spent the better part of last week up on the side of Black Rock Mountain assisting in my own way the facilitating of a Foxfire Approach to teaching class for teachers and teachers to be. I am being somewhat sarcastic as I am doing research for my dissertation as I participate in these programs. I seem to find folks to talk to and discuss this approach to learning that had its origins in the late 1800’s with John Dewey. Somewhere along the line we always as teachers find the things that bug us as I wrote about in my journal and droppings two days ago in the essay entitled, The Genocide of Learning. As I was sitting with my granddaughter earlier rocking as she fell asleep I was wondering back to Piaget again and how he saw his kids developing. I wonder if ever he took away a chance for learning while they grew up.

“When test scores go up, we should worry, because of how poor a measure they are of what matters, and what you typically sacrifice in a desperate effort to raise scores.” Alfie Kohn

I recall mention of curving math scores a few years back to have more students passing at the state level in actuality they had designed a new curriculum and were just checking it out and students failed miserably. It did not look good and with the miracle of statistics and curving better scores were had and Georgia fell under the umbrella of a new math Curriculum, Math I, II, III, and IV. Modeled after European integrated math it is all math areas at the same time. Colleges however are still looking for Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus. Now our third State school superintendent in about five years decided to go back to old method of subject taught math. Georgia School superintendents are elected the one from three terms back is in prison for embezzling money from education funds. The last school superintendent had some issues and the current one is trying to undo the damage. Add to this for Georgia folks who can forget the scandal in Atlanta schools over falsifying test scores and the subsequent pressure on teachers and administration in current test situations all for what is truly an invalid measure of learning.

“I remember taking advantage of scores mattering maybe too much… I would skip classes but pay enough attention to when teachers would go out of their way to ‘suggest’ what would be on the tests… I’d memorize that stuff and score very well despite missing many classes (but not too many as to fail based on missed hours alone)… Maybe learning what to pay attention to, I the new way to learn/be smart?” Liz Fotopoulos, Graphic Artist, Blogger, Facebook Friend

As I think back to my own educational career it was SAT scores that got me into college not my grades in high school. My GPA was too low for graduate school and a very high Miller Analogies score got me in along with an interview with the Dean of the Education department at Piedmont College. I could take standardized tests and do well. But is that a measure of learning or is it simple what you know at that time. Without a baseline point of reference an End of Course Test is literally meaningless other than our students all know this right now and or do not. It does not measure teacher effectiveness, IQ of students, disabilities within student population, aptitude of students, effectiveness of curriculum, what type of desks should or should not be used, cafeteria lunch menus, class room temperatures, and or any combination of the above. Teachers carry the load and yet become responsible at the end of the journey for how it was packed in the beginning.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. “ Lena Horne

Many years ago I met Leonard ring for the first time when he was taking a course in Safety Management at a school sponsored by my father’s company. It wasn’t too long till Len and my family were well acquainted. Len had a background and several degrees in ergonomics, however his specialty was lifting. “Bend your Knees”, became a famous catch word in a matter of years in industry, hospitals and around the world. With Len as the star of a video showing correct lifting and how a simple plan could save MILLIONS of dollars each year in lost time injuries related to back injury the video and Len traveled worldwide.
Len passed away nearly ten years ago but as I read this quote this morning I remembered meeting him for the first time in Macon nearly 35 years ago. Lena Horne makes a statement that is so true. How we deal with issues or problems those heavy loads can adversely affect us. Stress related illness is the major killer in the civilized world while water borne disease is in the third world countries. Perhaps we should make our choice now heart attack or dysentery as to how do I want to pass on and where. Seriously STRESS has become a big issue and for teachers and pressure of testing it is crucial.
Gary Zuchov in his books addresses our spiritual side with in his thinking that being at ease at peace with one self is crucial. Recent scientific studies have shown people who regularly meditate and coincidently a very high number of Buddhists have fewer incidences of stress related illness. People who address their fears and overcome them as in some eastern thought is also a significant issue they have less stress related issues. It is – how we carry the load and sadly it is far too easy to fear the unknown.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Mohandas Gandhi

I may seem as if I am wandering from education and the testing issue but not hardly, for it is this issue that is a major stressor in education, with parents, children and teachers. Defining the aspects of life that can provide us with some ease relief from stress and burdens can be difficult Gandhi uses the word will.

“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Carl Gustav Jung

Jung and Zuchov both refer to the soul as a key which is that aspect of our being we cannot see and in many ways know little of and yet so much is written. Author, psychologist and former monk, Thomas Moore has written numerous books based on his view of soul. One of his first was entitled, “The Care of the Soul”. I started this morning with a simple statement from Lena Horne “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it “. If we could only carry the load the correct way ever time wouldn’t the journey be far easier and the road so much smoother and maybe just maybe not break down. Maybe if we really wanted to measure what kids were learning using methods that have been proven over time the stress of teachers and children would be reduced. I had my chance at teaching because a person had a nervous breakdown of sorts. All of us have limitations physically, mentally and according to Jung and Zuchov spiritually. Would it not be wise to know those limitations if and where they are and by knowing your strengths and weaknesses it can only make you stronger. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.