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.

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.

Success is the journey not the destination

Bird Droppings July 27, 2011
Success is the journey, not the destination

My mother called me on a Saturday several years back all excited as she was listening to one of my father’s speeches from back in the day. I could hear my father’s booming speaking voice in the back ground from the tape recording. She mentioned a speech on Maximizing Success that he did in 1985 and we had recorded for our customers and clients with what was then our family company The International Loss Control Institute. Dad traveled at that time nearly seventy five percent of the time often staying in a country for weeks lecturing and teaching about his ideas on Loss Control management.
As she read the line I have used as a title today it brought back memories of a yellow sticky note and my sons hand writing affixed to my computer back in 1996 or so when a teenager was killed in a car wreck that was very close to many of us. Written on the note was a line from an Aerosmith song from a 1993 CD, Get a Grip and a song entitled Amazing by Steven Tyler. The line read life’s a journey not a destination.

“Life’s a journey not a destination and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow bring… yeah. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.” Steven Tyler

Seldom do I ever use the entire line of the lyrics when I quote Steven Tyler trying to get a bit more emphasis from the words. But as I looked today and have been for so many years intrigued by developmentalists the second part, you have to crawl before you learn how to walk caught my attention today. It could be that I had just read excerpts from Rabbi Gans writings and in his thoughts success is a progression towards a goal more than attainment of that goal.
Years ago I was directly and indirectly involved in a program entitled The Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential. Dr. Glenn Doman and Dr. Karl Delacato who were the developers and implementers of this concept. The idea basically was that in working with brain injured children and adults you could retrain portions of the brain undamaged to take over for the damaged portions. A simple concept and when pondering that stories go Einstein only used ten percent of his brain capacity it seems logical. The simple version of their philosophy was you have to creep, and then crawl before you walk. By training and retraining the brain in those patterns you could accomplish great things with brain injured individuals. Perhaps a glimpse at what IAHP does through their philosophy would provide a window.

“Where there is life there is hope. There is no such thing as false hope–it is a contradiction in terms. However, there is false despair. For centuries brain-injured children have been warehoused and forgotten. The Institutes believe that every brain-injured child deserves a fighting chance to be well. It is the mission of The Institutes to give parents the knowledge they need so that their brain-injured children may have that fighting chance. Further, The Institutes proposes that every child born has a right to be intellectually, physically, and socially excellent. The Institutes recognizes that parents are the most important teachers that their children will ever have. When parents know how the brain grows and why it grows the way it does, they are the very best teachers their children will ever have.” The Philosophy Of The Institutes, 2009

A serious issue with many is that there is no scientific proof their ideas work. They tend to refrain from control and excremental groups and if a parent wants help they will try and teach those parents the journey. My younger brother for a number of years was involved and in those years I saw improvement. Myself I was involved in a college program in Texas not only in Human Development classes but in the program myself as a college flunk out and one who more than likely had suffered brain injury at birth from seizures and epilepsy. But I did see success stories every day in their programs. Success many times is measured in minute increments when dealing with a brain injured child. Raising their head unassisted or feeding themselves can be a substantial goal if they had never done that before.

“Success is the journey not the destination.” Frank E. Bird Jr., 1985 Maximizing Success

I found it interesting my mother as we talked had googled the quote from my father and much as I did this morning found many hits but no specific person to attribute the quote to. However as I read I came upon a passage and article reprinted from a book.

“When you travel, you no doubt have a destination in mind. Reaching that destination is the end of a long process. First comes the journey, then the destination. It is the same with any goal; first you make the preliminary steps, then you reach the goal. All the steps in between are part of a long process called “success.” So whenever you set a goal and fall short of reaching it, or you miss the deadline to complete it, you can still be proud of your accomplishments, because as long as you are making progress, you are traveling on the road of success. You are not a failure if you miss a goal, but you are a failure if you stop trying, because once that happens you have brought the journey to a close.” Rabbi Moshe Gans, Success, 1996

As I read this short paragraph many of the ideas I had been pondering for now thirteen years made sense. We do have a goal a destination but our true success is not attainment of that goal but that we are progressing towards that goal. Imagine the applications to education. Immediately I thought of standardized testing with only an end point. Rabbi Gans would say how do you measure the success if you only have a goal and no progress. Essentially we should be measuring the progress not the end results. Where did that student start and where have they gone in their learning. In a learning focused school environment that would be a pre-test and post-test which gives you the journey and a map of where they are going. Sadly we only use the measure of end of course test in so many instances.
I have wandered and pondered many thoughts this morning and still have more reading and writing to do. Success is a journey it is about progressing towards a goal and attaining that goal. Maybe if enough people make a goal of world peace and we head in the right direction we can be successful. Maybe we can progress towards world peace. That would be a nice thought for today. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.